Prime Minister Theresa May said last month that she wanted “maximum control” over immigration but that in negotiations with the EU she would seek to get “maximum possible access to the single market”. Of course, but something has surely got to give on one side or both.

It seems that manufacturers, as represented by large auto firms and smaller engineering ones that are members of the BTMA, want no tariffs on selling to the EU, in the former’s case, and access to skilled EU workers in both cases. Carmakers’ views have been given front-page national coverage, the BTMA’s not so. But cue a discussion at Citizen Machinery UK’s recent Open House, where managing director Geoff Bryant reported that at a recent BTMA meeting, continued access to skilled workers from the EU was a key issue; the companies reportedly have around 10% non-UK, EU national employment.

As it happens, manufacturing is the sector within which most non-UK, EU-born workers in this country can be found, according to the ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ initiative (https://is.gd/epozow). Its figures say that 15% of all such workers in the UK can be found in this sector. They represent 10% of the manufacturing workforce, so the BTMA is right in line with that. The next largest number employed is found in wholesale/retail (12% of all non-UK, EU-born workers in the UK, representing 6% of the sector’s workforce) and then health and social work (11% and 5%).

So for manufacturing, is the answer to train more? Quite clearly, yes – and already suggested for the health sector, where the non-UK, EU-born proportion is far lower. But is the raw material available in manufacturing’s case? Companies take on apprentices but often end up letting many go, Machinery heard at the Citizen Machinery UK Open House. Bryant sums up the missing element these days as ‘gumption’; a willingness to stick at something, even when there are challenges.

It would be folly and unfair to write off all of a younger generation, clearly, but this is a view Machinery has heard many times before. There is a deeper educational/personal motivation issue that is, hopefully, being positively affected by today’s greater emphasis on apprenticeships, especially those innovative ones run by the likes of the AMRC (www.machinery.co.uk/60393). But it is not simply a matter of flicking on a switch. So manufacturing as a whole must hope that the Brexit negotiation conclusion in this area is, similarly, not an ‘off’ switch.

This article was published in the November 2016 issue of Machinery magazine.