Since 1990, 15,000 jobs have been lost in Ayrshire – many in manufacturing. High-profile names such as British Aerospace, Volvo and Digital have all shed jobs or relocated. And over the past 20 years, overall unemployment has run at 4% above the Scottish average of 5.5%.
To tackle the problem, regional economic development agency Enterprise Ayrshire has launched a strategy to create 10,000 new jobs over the next five years. The plan is to build a more diverse economy, focused on innovation, to reduce the region’s dependency on more vulnerable sectors.
One of the region’s key strengths is its skills base. This has already played a vital role in attracting new jobs, particularly in aerospace and electronics.
`Many of the unemployed are experienced and skilled workers who need little training to adapt to modern process industries,’ according to Brian Scobie, marketing officer for Enterprise Ayrshire.
Over the past few years, a cluster of aerospace firms involved mainly in the maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft has grown up around Prestwick airport, and the area is becoming a centre of excellence in this field.
Companies such as GE Caledonian, part of US giant General Electric, and BF Goodrich (formerly part of Rohr), have been drawn to the region by the available skills base, the airport’s strong cargo handling facilities and the presence of other aerospace companies.
BAe closed its Jetstream aircraft production in 1997, with the loss of 380 jobs, but it still has a military aircraft and aerostructures operation at Prestwick, which employs 1,200.
BAe’s presence, and the pool of skilled workers opened up by the Jetstream closure, have attracted other companies. Jobs have been found either within BAe or locally for almost 90% of the workers formerly employed at Jetstream. `The area has a skilled workforce, with a constant stream of new graduates available from various universities and colleges in the West of Scotland,’ says a spokesperson for GE Caledonian .
Ayrshire also has a wealth of other businesses, from sheet metal working and fabricating to shipbuilding and repair and metal casting.
Small businesses account for about 30% of employment in the region, and initiatives such as Engineering Ayrshire, which involves 46 small engineering and electronics firms, are bringing smaller companies together to win more business and become more competitive.