The collapse of steelmaker SSI UK is a suffocating fear factor that could cost the region millions of pounds in lost revenue, an experienced education professional has warned. Director of learning provision for 16-18 year-olds at Redcar & Cleveland College, John Pownall, said the North East was failing to make the most of lucrative opportunities in engineering and manufacturing due to a lack of skills in these areas.
The North East is well positioned to benefit from several projects, such as the Dogger Bank offshore wind farm in the North Sea, the construction of a £650m biomass energy plant at Teesport and other renewable energy projects. Nuclear new-builds and oil platform decommissioning projects also offer the opportunity of work for companies in these supply chains.
In addition, Redcar will benefit from the construction of the Sirius Minerals potash plant at Whitby and related materials processing facility at Wilton, a scheme that could potentially generate thousands of jobs across several industries.
However Pownall also believes that some companies would miss out because they didn't have access to the requisite skills to carry out the work. The closure of SSI UK last year, he added, had triggered concerns over the stability of a career in manufacturing and engineering and had dissuaded potential new recruits from studying these subjects at college and university.
Pownall said: "The closure of SSI UK was a devastating blow, not just to the workers and their families but also to the communities in which they live. It has also led to the creation of a fear factor, with some people mistakenly believing that jobs in engineering or manufacturing are at risk.”
"The failure of SSI doesn't mean that engineering and manufacturing careers are dead in the water,” he added. “These sectors are key to the future prosperity of the North East economy and there are already lots of projects in the pipeline that could generate wealth for these supply chains.”
Pownall commented: "However, some companies will miss out because they don't have the relevant skills or enough talent coming through the ranks. For that to change, we need more people studying engineering and manufacturing subjects at college and university. We also need to educate school children, their teachers and their parents about the vast range of careers in these sectors."
His comments come after Redcar & Cleveland College and Maersk Training teamed up to launch a new learning programme for professionals seeking to work on projects in the oil and gas and offshore wind industries, sectors which provide a wide range of career of opportunities for budding engineers.
The college is currently delivering offshore wind courses with Maersk Training's Newcastle operation. Created by experienced industry professionals, the courses cover areas such as fire awareness, first aid, major and minor cabling, electrical awareness, working at heights and sea survival.
Meanwhile the college is also working with Maersk Training's Aberdeen operation to deliver accredited drilling courses to people hoping to rise up the oil and gas industry career ladder. These include foundation and advanced programmes in drilling competency, another course covering well control and well intervention, and a senior management and incident response programme designed to up skill oil installation managers.