Manufacturers are struggling to recruit skilled workers as the growth of Jaguar Land Rover is stretching an already thin engineering base to its limits.
Supply chain companies in the region – many of which have been boosted by the incredible growth of the car giant – are losing young, talented staff to JLR as it grows to meet soaring global demand.
They say they are unable to compete with the wages and prestige JLR can offer, and are seeing workers hand their notice in with little chance of being able to replace them in a jobs market short on engineering talent.
JLR has been on a recruitment drive in the last two years, as profits have rocketed on the back of demand globally, which has seen it take on more than 8,000 new people, including 1,00 engineers, 1,100 new posts at Castle Bromwich and 1,000 at Solihull.
Rachel Eade, supply chain specialist at Manufacturing Advisory Service, said the impact was being felt outside of automotive engineering.
“I know of many companies that have lost staff to Jaguar Land Rover at an engineering and project management level,” she said.
“It is creating problems in two ways – firstly when people hand their notice in SMEs are trying to keep them there but can’t afford it from a financial perspective – I know of one case where it would have cost them £15,000 more to keep a member of staff. Young engineers see the chance to have JLR on their CV as a major addition.
“Secondly, there is the disruption because it is so difficult replacing people. Even if they give two months’ notice there isn’t time for the handover and there is always a period of disruption. And when you come to look to replace them with new people you are competing with JLR for them.”
She added: “It is perverse because some of the companies that are losing people supply Jaguar Land Rover. JLR actually need these engineers in their supply chain.”
Ms Eade said a lot of companies have begun to focus on training up younger staff – but that once they are trained they face competition from JLR. There are more than 1,000 supply chain firms in the region and while Ms Eade did not name any, she said she had been contacted by several with this problem. “It would be great if they would say to suppliers ‘we will not poach your staff’.”
Among the companies to have lost engineering skills because of the growth of JLR is precision engineering firm Brandauer.
The 150-year-old Birmingham company has scrapped its apprenticeship scheme in recent years and sales and marketing director Rowan Crozier said it was struggling to keep workers from joining the JLR revolution.
Mr Crozier says he attributes no blame to JLR – and is pleased with the firm’s success – but rather believes it is years of ignoring the importance of promoting engineering to young people.
The company has halted its apprenticeship scheme after struggling to keep young candidates and instead has initiated an “improvers” scheme, in which it returns former engineers to the company and trains them up.
“Apprenticeships are where we have had the biggest issue,” he said. “Our apprenticeships programme has been very successful for our business – our managing director was an ex-Brandauer apprentice – so it works.
“However, we had the recession and unfortunately had to make adjustments to the number of heads in the business so people had less time to spend with the apprentices.
“But the other problem is companies like Jaguar Land Rover, as well as Goodrich and TRW. Time and time again when we have been successful we have struggled to retain engineers because they are more attracted by big salaries at bigger companies.
“We struggle to recruit people and on more than one occasion we have lost people to Jaguar Land Rover before they have even got their bum on the seat.”
A JLR spokesperson said: “Jaguar Land Rover recognises that the skills shortage across the UK’s automotive industry is an ongoing challenge and we are working with Government as well as other agencies to identify ways to address this issue.
“We are training and building the skills of our workforce as well as actively engaging with more than 200,000 young people every year to encourage them to consider careers in the automotive industry.”