£5bn investment may be hit by gap in skills

THE region’s process sector is set for £5bn of investment by 2012 but will fail to capitalise on the cash unless it increases the skills of the workforce, industry leaders have warned.

THE region’s process sector is set for £5bn of investment by 2012 but will fail to capitalise on the cash unless it increases the skills of the workforce, industry leaders have warned.

The region faces a shortage of 20,000 workers in the process sector by 2014, according to a report by the North East Process Industry Cluster (Nepic).

The process industry, which covers chemicals, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, accounts for 25% of the North-East’s total GDP and currently employs 34,000 people.

Unless businesses recruit and train locally, the North-East will fail to make the most of the £5bn global investment slated for the industry, said the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). President of IMechE John Baxter said: “We can’t afford to sit back and wait for the skills shortage to affect the North-East economy any more than it’s doing now.

“We’re already experiencing a severe skills shortage in the process sector and it isn’t acceptable, when we have a wealth of untapped talent on our doorstep, to recruit workers from overseas.

“We have a problem in encouraging young people to enter the profession and it’s down to industry, academia and the Government to do something about it. If we don’t, the consequences for our economy could be disastrous.”

Last week, process industry leaders gathered in the region to discuss a survey by

Nepic’s skills and education engagement team on the looming skills shortage in the region. The survey revealed that almost double the number of workers are needed in the process industry by 2014.

Nepic chairman George Ritchie said the skills shortage had caused a number of North-East businesses to recruit Polish graduates to fill process industry jobs.

He also said it was up to education and business institutions to ensure the region takes full advantage of the £5bn of slated investment by encouraging young people to consider a career in the industry. He said: “We need to ensure we get our message across that there’s a great career here and people don’t have to leave the North-East region.”

Paul Booth, president of Teesside-based Sabic UK Petrochemicals, warned there was a risk that international businesses would not invest in the region in the future if they thought it lacked a skilled workforce.

Meanwhile, in a bid to encourage youngsters into a career in the process industry IMechE will launch its national Engineering Technician scheme in November.

It aims to teach school leavers they can enter an engineering career immediately without having to go through university first.

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