A resurgence of investment in regional engineering skills

Penny recently spoke to BQ Business Quarter about efforts being made in the region to put us on the right track to secure future success in the engineering sector.

Penny Marshall, Director, ICE North East, Yorkshire & Humber
Penny Marshall, Director, ICE North East, Yorkshire & Humber

The skills gap in the engineering sector is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry across the North East and Yorkshire. However, if you take a broad view of efforts being made to bridge that gap in the North, there is real reason to be optimistic.

There are projects ranging from a new job skills training facility for ex-military staff in Darlington to a new centre for engineering at Leeds College of Building. The projects are not only focused on one area alone but are located in the north, south, east and west, giving people across the North an opportunity to develop their skills.

I started my own career in engineering some 40 years ago and during that time there has been an enormous amount of change in the sector. Whilst engineering has become more inclusive with increasing numbers of women joining a profession that was once viewed overwhelmingly as a 'man's job', there has been a marked decline in home-grown candidates of both sexes.

A rather embarrassing case in point occurred back in 2012 when Gateshead-based Sevcon launched a scheme to fund students through degree courses at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, in a bid to help young people into engineering careers with the company. Sevcon reported that, despite its success in training a number of future employees, not one applicant for the scheme had come from the North East.

The good news is that businesses are now starting to invest in apprenticeships and work with colleges of further and higher education to invest in future-proofing skills. The Government has put its weight behind apprenticeships and earlier this year it invested in the creation of nine new 'Degree Apprenticeships' in key areas including, chartered surveying, aerospace engineering, and nuclear.

Nick Baveystock, Director General of the Institution of Civil Engineers, recently cast an eye over Leeds College of Building's new £17 million, 8,000 sq m education and training campus on land at Hunslet Lane and Black Bull Street, in Leeds City Centre. It is a hugely exciting project and one that will help to train the engineers of the future in a key catchment area.

Other exciting initiatives include a major project that has been secured by a Darlington training provider to help ex-military staff gain employment after they leave their Service careers. Nordic Focus Training Group (NFTG) has piloted an 18-month training programme for Persimmon Homes and its Combat to Construction scheme. Based at its new training centre in Darlington there are plans to expand the training to London, then nationwide.

ICE's members encompass engineers and associated professionals with a wide range of skills who are deployed on a huge variety of projects. Senior engineers, planners and policy makers now have to use increased vision and to be futurologists in designing for the years to come.

In France, for instance, toll roads are common and could in future years help to bridge the gap between infrastructure ideals and reality in the UK. Driverless cars, new forms of power generation and resilience of infrastructure in the face of climate change are all challenges that need to be tackled by professionals in our industry.

Projects such as HS2 and HS3 require top flight engineering skills to match the complexity of the projects, and a key project in Doncaster has received £10 million of investment from the government. The new National Rail College will be vital to ensuring HS2 is a success. The college, based at Doncaster's Lakeside Campus, is due to open in 2017 and will train thousands of apprentices to work on the new rail link.

Newcastle College has already developed a multi-million pound training facility for the rail industry. The Newcastle College Rail Academy has been developed in partnership with employers and the National Skills Academy for Rail Engineering (NSARE) in response to the rail industry's demand for skills. 25,000 skilled rail staff are due to retire over the next 10 years and 1,000 in the North East by 2018. This unique £5 million facility is the first of its kind in the country to provide a centre of innovation, training and development for rail engineering. The college features real working environments dedicated to rail infrastructure with resources for signalling, tele-communications, electrification and plant and track all under one roof.

The Department for Education has given the go-ahead for the North East's first University Technical College (UTC), which will be based in Newton Aycliffe. The college, due to open in 2016, will have space for up to 600 young people. The £10 million engineering centre of excellence will specialise in advanced manufacturing and engineering training for students aged 14 to 19 from across South Durham and the Tees Valley. It is being supported by University of Sunderland, Hitachi Rail Europe and Gestamp Tallent Automotive.

UTCs are expected to spring up across the North in the coming years. In Sheffield, the UTC has been up and running for two years and this September will see the advent of the Humber UTC, followed by Scarborough and Leeds in 2016 and Newcastle and Hull, the latter being supported by Siemens, in 2017.

These are just some of the exciting projects currently in the pipeline in our region that will serve to set us more firmly on the right track to future success in the engineering sector. The future is brighter than it has been for some considerable time, and opportunities abound for young people. We need to ensure that we continue the work that is to be done to maintain this momentum.