Build for the future

Training body calls for more cash to avoid the shortfall of engineers that could threaten our energy new-build programme. Anh Nguyen reports


The UK faces a shortfall of skilled engineers that could threaten the nation’s drive to build a new generation of power stations, according to a recent report.

The Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) predicts a total deficit of 17,000 skilled technical workers in the construction industry by 2014, and the body calls for more investment in training, including a possible increase in the levy paid to it by companies to support skills development.

The organisation, which represents firms involved in any part of the construction process from design to installation and maintenance, calls for employers and trades unions to help shape an action plan to secure construction skills over the next six years. It identified power generation, including new-builds, as one of the biggest growth areas and consequently where one of the largest shortfalls may be found.

‘One of the biggest issues is that the government won’t get its power stations built. Most of the bigger ones in the UK are past their initial design life and need to be replaced, which is why power is the biggest single growth area for requirement of people,’ said ECITB’s chief executive David Edwards.

‘With the anticipated nuclear programme, we have to have people available to do the construction work. So if you say we have to build the power stations, it provides an incentive for employers to find and train people to do the work.’

The study projected a shortfall across a wide range of skills, noting that shortages would be most prevalent in areas such as project engineering, design and project management skills.

Edwards used one group of skilled employees as an example of how the ECITB arrived at its figures: ‘Currently we have 3,500 senior management and project management personnel in the industry. In a projected scenario of reasonable growth, we need to be renewing that at an annual rate of 385, resulting in a population of 4,165 in 2014,’ said Edwards. ‘In our plan based on the current levels of funding, we are pretty confident we will deliver 1,232, but that means there is a shortfall of 1,463,’ he added.

The source of the ECITB’s existing training fund is a statutory levy imposed on relevant companies to support the training of new and existing workers. Increasing this levy could be one solution to the shortfall, but Edwards insisted that it was not the only answer.

‘In the largest shortfall we want to increase volume and there is insufficient investment in training of new people to meet the growth and demand. but another bottleneck is getting good quality work experience. We need employers to look at trainees more favourably,’ he said.

‘We are talking about mostly hazardous industries and there is a lot of resistance to getting not-fully skilled people into these places. But unless you get people in they are not going to learn, so it is about planning training development more coherently and everybody working to the same problem,’ he said.