New world of factories fails to attract Welsh youth

Young people in Wales hold a strongly negative image of manufacturing and are shunning shopfloor jobs as "dirty, dull and boring".

Research by Coopers and Lybrand for an independent think tank, the Institute of Welsh Affairs, shows that attempts to promote careers in industry have failed to impress many Welsh teenagers.

It is not seen as leading to a structured career path. A typical student response in a survey carried out for the institute was: "If you have GCSEs you'd go for a better job than manufacturing".

Another 16-year-old said manufacturing offered "jobs for people who don't want to go into further education".

The deeply ingrained attitudes reflect a scepticism among parents who believe they are only too well aware of the quality of jobs offered in the new world of manufacturing.

"Parents do not perceive manufacturing as a good career option for their children," says a report on the study, Bridging the Technology Skills Gap. The findings are based on a survey of 14 to 19-year-old students in Welsh secondary schools.

There was also a failure at school and college level, according to the researchers. "Over half the careers and headteachers interviewed could not define the role of a technician." There was often confusion with titles such as school laboratory technician.

Schools also appeared to have little understanding of Modern Apprenticeships, the Tories' flagship industry training scheme which has been adopted with little criticism by Labour. Parents had almost no understanding of them or their potential to meet the aspirations of young people.

Government figures last week showed that the number of recruits - after a very shaky start for the scheme - had topped 100,000. But the apprenticeships were found largely in English-based industries.

The negative attitude has remained despite an explosion of new manufacturing in Wales - industry which contributes 28 per cent of the economic wealth. The car industry alone now employs 20,000 people in 150 firms with a combined turnover of Pounds 1.7 billion. Similarly, electronics employs 25,000 in 200 firms with a turnover of Pounds 1.3 bn.

Such attitudes have confounded researchers since there has been massive investment in industry-education links work.

Earlier this year, the Council for Training and Enterprise Councils in Wales sounded the alarm in a report, A Vision for the 21st Century. "Despite the renaissance in the Welsh economy," it said, "the image of Welsh manufacturing lags behind this reality."

The concern expressed by researchers for the Institute of Welsh Affairs' report is that the sustained overseas and inward investment needs an understanding and educated workforce.

The growing resistance of a workforce to accept such jobs was identified in the early Thatcher years as a key reason for Britain's failure to attract investment from overseas.

The report recommends a range of initiatives including educational videos and better-targeted careers advice. It also backs the TECs' call for a manufacturing industry forum to bring together the major players including schools, further education colleges and employers.

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