The week ahead: aerial superiority and skills in the spotlight

News editor

Last week’s budget saw a commitment to the MoD that includes an additional £1.5bn a year by 2020-21 to fund increased spending on the military and intelligence agencies.

The prime minister is now widely reported to have urged defence chiefs to channel funds toward the SAS and drones to combat the threat from Islamic State (IS).

Events taking place this week will see senior figures from academia, business, politics and the armed forces convening to discuss current and future challenges, notably at the Chief of the Air Staff’s Air Power Conference.

Taking place over two days in London, ‘Securing the Skies: Protect and Project’ will seek to reiterate the importance of air superiority as “the principal role in the UK Air and Space Doctrine, enabling UK Defence to deter, coerce, and, if necessary, defeat a determined ‘capable adversary’ in contested airspace in order to protect national interests.”

The organiser says speakers will examine and explore that role and discuss how it could evolve between now and 2035 during sessions that include an examination on day two of the role of technology in generating and sustaining military capability.

The organiser adds: The speed of technological change in the commercial sector is now out pacing military acquisition cycles and the cost of commercial technology is falling, making it more accessible to a wider range of actors. At the same time the cost of military (air) platforms is climbing so rapidly that it risks undermining combat mass.

Securing the Skies: Protect and Project takes place at Church House, London between July 15 & 16, followed by the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire between July 17 & 19, which will feature – among the very many highlights – approximately 20 vintage aircraft that are being flown as part of a Battle of Britain flypast.

The RAF Village at the event includes displays by 1 Engineering Logistics Squadron, 2MT Mechanical Transportation Squadron, RAF Engineering, and RAF Careers and Engagement doing its bit to attract talent through its hangar doors.

Last week’s budget also featured the introduction of an apprenticeship levy, and today CBI has expressed concerns that the levy “will not deliver the high-quality, business-relevant training needed, and do little to help small or medium sized businesses.”

This view has been offered today on the release of the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills survey, which offers more portents regarding the demand for skilled workers outstripping supply.

Key findings from the survey of 310 companies include:

  • 2 in 3 businesses (68%) expect their need for staff with higher level skills to grow in the years ahead, but more than half of those surveyed (55%) fear that they will not be able to access enough workers with the required skills
  • Demand for highly skilled workers is particularly strong in sectors critical to the rebalancing of the economy – engineering, science and hi-tech (74%), construction (73%) and manufacturing (69%).

The report also highlights how firms are struggling to recruit staff with the necessary science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills, with half (52%) experiencing (or expecting within three years) a shortfall of experienced staff.

The results echo the findings of The Engineer’s own 2015 salary survey, in which almost half of respondents identified a lack of technical knowledge as one of the biggest issues facing industry. 

In a statement, Katja Hall, CBI deputy girector-general, said: “The government has set out its stall to create a high-skilled economy, but firms are facing a skills emergency now, threatening to starve economic growth. Worryingly, it’s those high-growth, high-value sectors with the most potential which are the ones under most pressure. That includes construction, manufacturing, science, engineering and technology.

“The new levy announced in the budget may guarantee funding for more apprenticeships, but it’s unlikely to equate to higher quality or deliver the skills that industry needs. Levies on training already exist in the construction sector where two-thirds of employers are already reporting skills shortages.

“Employers have a critical role in upskilling the workforce, but part of the deal must be for real business control of apprenticeships to meet their needs on the ground.

“The best way to plug the skills gaps and provide quality training is to speed up existing apprenticeships reforms already underway and encourage smaller firms to get involved.”

Those of you with 10-15 minutes to spare may wish to take part in a survey on the effect of the engineering skills gap. 

Supported by Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, the 2015 MHA Manufacturing & Engineering Survey will look at the barriers to growth – and the long term implications of failing to invest in engineering talent at every level.

Manufacturers can contribute to the survey by going to: