The Sheffield College has warned it is struggling to recruit the staff it needs to train the engineers and construction workers of the future.
Bosses at the college claim that without more central government funding to help them attract sufficiently skilled workers it may be difficult to meet the growing demand for apprenticeships within the sector.
They say that could hamper the ability of the region’s engineering and construction industry, which is already facing a skills shortage, to keep growing the economy.
More than 520 engineering and construction apprentices started at the college in 2017/18 – double the 260 it took on the previous year – and 86 people began higher apprenticeships, compared with none in 2016/17.
The college has already boosted the faculty significantly over the last two years but is finding it so hard to attract staff with the right skills that before Christmas it had to put a temporary freeze on new apprenticeships – which has since been lifted - to ensure standards were maintained.
One vacancy – for someone to teach electrical engineering – has yet to be filled despite being posted four times.
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Steve Elliott, head of engineering, construction and technology at the college, said: “The engineering and construction industry in the region is on growing and that’s reflected in the number of apprenticeships we’re offering.
“It’s proving a real challenge to recruit people from within the industry with the right skills to come into the education sector to pass those skills onto the next generation of engineers and construction workers.
“If we can’t attract them, the existing skills gap will widen and it will have an impact on the local economy because it will be harder for the sector to keep growing.
“The Government could be doing more to raise awareness of the skills shortage and to provide full parity on pay to help us attract the staff we need.”
Further education college teachers earn £30,000 a year on average, according to the Association of Colleges, compared with £37,000 for school teachers.
That’s much less than the median wage for an engineering professional in Sheffield City Region, which the labour market analyst EMSI puts at just under £40,000.
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The Sheffield College is backing the national Love Our Colleges campaign to increase funding for colleges, which the AoC says has dropped by around 30 per cent since 2009.
More than 70,000 people have signed a petition calling for colleges to get the same funding as schools, for which the Government has announced more money, ensuring ‘fair pay’ for further education staff.
Louise Haigh last week raised the issue in parliament, saying: “We need to ensure that they have full parity of pay, so that we can attract the best and the brightest into this sector.”
The Department for Education said in a statement: “The Government is committed to growing the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills pipeline that we need for a dynamic and growing economy, as highlighted in the Industrial Strategy.”
It added that it was created new ‘world leading’ institutions where students can learn engineering, like the New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMiTE) in Herefordshire.
And it said it was working to recruit more teachers in STEM subjects, with the 5,900 new trainees starting in the field last year more than 500 up from the previous year.
Responding to the Love Our Colleges petition, the Government said it was funding priorities in further education, including new ‘T levels’, and was looking at the needs of colleagues ahead of the Spending Review. But it added that colleges were ‘not in scope for school pay arrangements’.