Ford, Bentley craft vocational programs to draw workers to manufacturing

Jaguar Land Rover taps ex-military to combat skills shortage

Ford, Bentley craft vocational programs to draw workers to manufacturing

Training and apprenticeships are all the rage in Britain. Jaguar Land Rover has hired and trained a former British Army officer, who once managed the deployment of military vehicles, to develop distribution strategies for cars.

Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
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LONDON -- When Julie Taylor left the British Army after managing the deployment of military vehicles, the Ministry of Defense resettlement program helped steer her to more common modes of transport: Jaguars and Range Rovers.

Taylor got a job at Jaguar Land Rover developing car-distribution strategies, playing to the planning skills she gained in 8 1/2 years with the Royal Logistic Corps.

It was a smooth ride on a route that's rough for many former military personnel, particularly those with less experience.

Jaguar, owned by India's Tata Motors Ltd., has created a course to attract the likes of Taylor amid a shortage of skilled workers in Britain.

Automakers including Ford Motor Co. and Bentley are competing for talent with trainee programs the growing U.K. auto industry is devising to draw workers to manufacturing.

"I was very lucky," Taylor said. "A lot of military will come out with no qualifications whatsoever but still have loads of skills. They might not be recognized by companies because they don't have the right ticks in the right boxes."

Jaguar's answer is a program for so-called early service leavers, the growing number of people who leave the military after three years or less.

The United Kingdom is reducing troop numbers at the same time that employers face the worst skills shortage since at least 1997, according to a report from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and KPMG.

"About 6,500 are going to be made redundant," said Kate Birkenhead, a Jaguar community officer, referring to early leavers. "They are going to have a three-year gap with no direct relevance or experience in any industry."

Job interviews

Jaguar's program will be offered to about 12 to 15 people, with interviewing techniques, resume writing and practical manufacturing skills on the agenda, Birkenhead said.

"It's how can we help them and prepare them for work in the automotive industry and to help them develop the skills that they need to apply to the recruitment process hopefully in our supply chain but with the wider industry as well," she said.

Training and apprenticeships are all the rage in Britain, supported by major political parties as a way to boost vocational opportunities.

About 20 percent of people leaving military service fail to find a job after six months, according to the Department of Defense.

Under Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron -- who is ferried about in an armored Jaguar -- the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills budget for adult apprenticeships has doubled in four years to about 765 million pounds ($1.3 billion).

Fragile recovery

While Britain is in the midst of recovery on some fronts, manufacturing output fell by 1.3 percent in May, the steepest decline in 16 months.

"For the first time in a century there is the real danger of our children doing worse than their parents," Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said at a vocational summit on July 8.

There were about 510,000 apprenticeships begun in 2012-2013, up from 231,000 in 2009-2010, according to a government report to Parliament.

The United Kingdom needs to double the number of engineering, construction and manufacturing recruits by 2020 just to satisfy current growth, according to the London-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Like Jaguar Land Rover, Ford has a plethora of programs. The U.S. automaker is building a training center in Daventry, England, to combine courses for technicians, sales staff and management at one university-like facility.

It will host the Ford Masters Apprenticeship program and new offerings. Volkswagen AG's Bentley division is working with Manchester Metropolitan University and companies including Siemens AG to have a technical college in place near the luxury carmaker's Crewe, England, headquarters in 2016.

2 million cars

The resurgence of light vehicle manufacturing makes it a key recruitment area.

Industry jobs rose 6 percent last year to 772,000, with manufacturing surging 9 percent, according to the U.K. Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

By 2017, Britain will make more than 2 million cars, breaking a 1972 record, researcher AutoAnalysis said.

One Jaguar program is an engineering traineeship that has engaged 100 young people since its start last year. Some have gone on to apprenticeships, others to full-time jobs.

"A couple have jobs that aren't directly automotive, but they've got jobs," Birkenhead said. Jaguar's previous efforts helped it win "Responsible Business of the Year" honors for 2013 from non-profit Business in the Community.

Taylor, who joined the Army seeking mental and physical challenges, travel and adventure, said she's now pursuing the opposite: stability and predictability.

She may have found it.

"Some companies are very on-board with taking on ex- military," she said. "I'm thinking I want to have a full career here."

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