The 5% Club of apprentices can build a better British economy; Defence company chief executive Leo Quinn explains why ensuring 5pc of employees are apprentices, sponsored students or graduates is key to creating employability and employment

The 5% Club of apprentices can build a better British economy

Defence company chief executive Leo Quinn explains why ensuring 5pc of employees are apprentices, sponsored students or graduates is key to creating employability and employment


Qinetiq chief executive Leo Quinn

By Leo Quinn, Chief executive, QinetiQ

6:01AM GMT 08 Nov 2013

Britain’s pedigree for engineering and innovation is part of its DNA. It is something of which we are rightly proud, yet tragically seem happy to watch fade gradually into history as an inevitable kind of decline. For over a century, our engineers were world-famous. Trained by British apprenticeships and universities, they made this country a byword for invention. On their shoulders a small island stood tall, ranged far and built many wonders of the modern world.But today, we are being beaten at our own game by the rest of the world.

India and China far outstrip us in producing engineering talent. In many countries, women swell the pool of engineering talent: in the UK, girls remain traditionally less likely to study STEM subjects or pursue them into the world of work if they do.

And we also watch our brightest talents being poached to train abroad. Yes, this actually happens: Germany – which rates apprenticeships on a par with university – is actually recruiting apprentices from Britain, to fill their available quotas.

That is a shameful situation.

Why? Because engineering skills are all about problem-solving and thus innovation. Innovation leads to growth, which in turn leads to prosperity.

What ails Britain? At the first signs that the economy is stabilising and even reviving, we look to the consumer, the housing market, the financial services sector to drive recovery. Yet what we need is a real, ongoing engine of industrial growth. And for that we need to create capability.

Instead, while we talk of a chronic skills shortage and – rightly – deplore high youth unemployment as the sacrifice of a generation, we consistently fail to fix it.

Here is an issue whose impact is both social and economic, whose consequences are nationwide and long-term. Here is a problem requiring all of us to stand up and be counted. Inspiring the next generation is not enough – we must invest in it.

We can’t blame the recent recession – this is not a new problem. Or Government: even the latest, deepest Spending Review includes an extra £500m of science capital funding and in education, Government intercedes early by encouraging STEM subjects in schools.

Yet there is a real dearth of technicians, engineers and scientists coming through – which means less UK-originated intellectual property and hence fewer UK-designed products, less chance of renewing our manufacturing base, loss of export opportunities. Result – a stubbornly high deficit requiring ongoing spending cuts.

So we all pay a price; but those penalised most are those paying the lifelong cost of “skills poverty”.

Young people are the very resource critical to our future ability to grow and compete globally, to revive Britain’s engineering reputation. For us as industrialists, developing our young people is a straightforward business imperative: as parents and citizens, it is also a moral one.

Over the last decade too few British companies have sponsored apprentice and graduate programmes. Surprisingly for an organisation built on knowhow, five years ago QinetiQ itself had less than 1pc of its workforce in apprentice and graduate intake.

I firmly believe that the answer to the engineering conundrum lies in creating real “pull” from the demand side.

Today at QinetiQ we run several programmes to engage young minds – both boys and girls – which have so many other modern-day interests competing with their time. Our people include those responsible for STEM outreach work, we hold engineering contests for schools, we open our doors to local pupils so they can see the latest projects our company is proud to be working on, including in Space, Simulation and Maritime. We are also one of the key sponsors of the Government-backed Cyber Security Challenge to get bring more young people into the cyber profession.

And it is for this reason, too, that QinetiQ and a group of Britain’s leading companies, including EADS, Babcock, Atkins, MBDA and Renishaw, have formed The 5% Club.

The idea behind it is simple. All companies in the UK measure themselves. Public companies declare these metrics in their annual reports – financial, environmental, health and safety. Given today’s youth unemployment and skills dearth, shouldn’t we be monitoring and reporting our investment in skills creation, in not just employment but employability?

Members of The 5% Club pledge to work toward having a minimum 5pc of our UK workforce enrolled on formalised apprentice, sponsored student and/or graduate development schemes within five years.

In QinetiQ’s case I have committed that we will achieve 5pc by 2015 and we have already more than tripled from our lowest level, to almost 4pc – not just in our traditional core activities but are recruiting in our newest areas of operation such as Space and Cyber.

Any business can participate: having thrown out the challenge we are already finding takers, and not just from companies with engineering at heart. Following The 5% Club’s recent launch, Vision Express and international law firm Pinsent Masons have signed up, along with a number of other companies.

Leading a business is all about choices, balancing out the calls on finite funds, of today versus tomorrow. The strategic decision to commit to 5% of our workforce as apprentice, sponsored student and graduate programmes is one that will pay huge dividends in terms of long term prosperity – not only for the company that does it, but also for our society and Britain’s place in the world.

Leo Quinn, chief executive of QinetiQ

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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