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Apprenticeships’ Role in Future-Proofing Manufacturing in Wales

Rôl Prentisiaethau Mewn Diogelu Gweithgynhyrchu yng Nghymru yn y Dyfodol



Heather Anstey-Myers is the CEO of Manufacturing Wales, a collaborative consortium formed to assist Wales’ manufacturers through the unique challenges posed by the pandemic. Leading the conversation on how manufacturers can adapt to ongoing economic advancements, Heather emphasises the value of attracting new skills and talent to the industry through apprenticeships, as well as how building a long-lasting and diverse workforce can lay the groundwork for the fast-approaching changes within the manufacturing sector.

Heather’s interest in supporting the manufacturing industry stems from her early experience working in factory settings during her summer holidays.

She explains:

“These jobs gave me a real insight into the nuance of many different roles within a manufacturing setting, as well as how working collaboratively was critical to ensure the system was able to properly deliver the product at the end. Had I not done those jobs, I don’t think I would’ve quite appreciated how fine-tuned this work needs to be and the importance of everyone within that supply chain.”

Following this early exposure to manufacturing, Heather went on to work in a variety of roles including town planning, leading Abergavenny food festival, and serving as CEO of South Wales Chambers of Commerce. Each of these roles gave Heather an insight into the importance of manufacturing as a fundamental pillar of the economy.

“Manufacturing is at the core of what has made Wales great in the past, continues to make Wales great now, and can make Wales even better in the future. It is at the heart of economic productivity, growth, agility, and innovation. It will adapt to and change the world around us and produce new and exciting things. Supporting this sector is a fundamental part of what we should be doing to support our economy as a whole. I am convinced that it is one of the cornerstones for increasing Wales' GDP and output.”

In her current role at Manufacturing Wales, Heather’s focus is on ensuring the manufacturers of today are supported, to allow Wales’ economy to continue adapting to changing landscapes. She adds:

“We will always need something that manufactured by somebody in manufacturing industry, so it’s not a fleeting fad. Wales has strong credentials in a lot of manufacturing areas. We are at the forefront of a number of key technologies – most notably the semiconductor cluster in South Wales – but we also have strong exports in health, food and drink, and aerospace, among others. It’s also going to be interesting to see how the Celtic Freeport bids and the drive to Net Zero impact our industries.”

However, these opportunities are accompanied by challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and other changes to logistics on a global scale have led the sector to a turning point. That's when Manufacturing Wales joined the conversation. As Heather explains:

“the past few years have been a difficult time for the industry as a whole, and there have been some particular challenges that were faced individually by manufacturers too. The network created by Manufacturing Wales became really powerful in connecting manufacturers to share information about how to overcome those challenges, find different suppliers, and generally have open conversations. We’re there to support manufacturers with information, support, and advice to make it easier for these businesses to find the right resources.

“The manufacturing industry also relies heavily on research and development, knowledge, product design, efficiencies, and other different cutting-edge technologies. As a result, Manufacturing Wales has evolved into a collaboration between  manufacturing and academia looking at existing  and future prospects of skills, talent, knowledge, and research. Our primary goal is to create a place for the exchange of ideas. And as a representative body, our businesses can articulate the challenges they’re facing via us to external stakeholders.”

Together with global concerns, there are issues much closer to home:

“We want manufacturing to be viewed as a career of choice” says Heather. “One of the things we are looking to do is challenge the stereotypes that exist around manufacturing – particularly the idea that manufacturing is low-skilled and male-dominated. Many of the products our manufacturers are creating use incredibly advanced materials and require a high level of precision. There is no heritage of this being a male- or female-dominated environment because many of these pathways are fairly new. We need to challenge perceptions of what this new era of manufacturing is going to entail.

“There are plenty of opportunities for people who want careers in manufacturing to build those careers here in Wales. And with the industry’s current outlook, we can expect more career development opportunities s, which will aid in the long-term retention of people. We need to shout more about that, so we don’t lose this highly skilled workforce to other countries.”

Along with these changing roles comes a need to think about where to source the skills and talent for this evolving sector. Heather explains: “We need to think about what to invest in now to create a strong manufacturing base to support all of the economic advancements happening across Wales. Having the right skills and talent is essential, but so is a sense of belonging for our employees and having the right infrastructure to create opportunities close to where people live.

“Commuting times are important to think about as employers – how realistic is it for your talent, including apprentices, to get to your site? If people can’t get to the manufacturing sites because of difficulties with transport, then that is a barrier. We need good infrastructure in order to move this sector forward. Not only for reasons of employability, but also for businesses to move their goods in and out.”

When addressing how to support the manufacturing sector to adapt to new advancements on our economy’s horizon, such as the moves to decarbonisation and digitalisation, Heather highlights apprenticeships as a valuable means of supporting businesses to futureproof: “

What you’ll get with an apprentice is someone who is training and bringing up to date knowledge into your business” she says. “Bringing new ways of looking at things, as well as talent, can help you mould your organisation to meet the changes so many manufacturers are going through.”

For employers looking to attract new talent and retrain their existing workforce, the Welsh Government offers a variety of recruitment and training support schemes through Business Wales. One of them is Wales' highly successful Apprenticeships program.

Heather says:

“Apprenticeships are vital to manufacturing because they offer entry-level opportunities for talent at different stages. They have such a great bandwidth – all the way from school leavers to degree-level talent wanting to retrain.”

“But it’s not enough to just hire someone and have them do a job with no development or progression. It’s about making sure you are committed to giving them the time to learn and develop and giving them that wrap-around support. We must be really clear about what we’re offering and what the individual will get out of it. Apprenticeships are such a nimble way of creating the exact skills that our economy needs,

“The breadth of employment opportunities available in manufacturing is vast. It is not gender- specific and is more inclusive than it ever has been. The ongoing conversation about how we can support new talent coming into our sector is essential to ensure our industry can adapt to the changes we don’t even know about yet.”

Business Wales Recruit and Train offers a wide range of support to help employers create opportunities for young people and adults to enter the workplace, such as Apprenticeships, REACT+ and Jobs Growth Wales+.

Visit https: Business Wales | Skills Gateway to find out more.


The Welsh Government’s Business Wales service supports new and established businesses in Wales.

Whether you’re thinking about starting a new business, have already taken the first few steps or want to grow your current business, we can help.

Business Wales supports the sustainable growth of small and medium size enterprises across the country by offering access to information, guidance and business support including:

– Starting up and business planning
– Finance
– Marketing
– Skills and training
– IT
– Business ideas and innovation


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