PERHAPS there is some room for optimism to creep into the economic outlook for the North East.
The news that Nissan in Sunderland is to build a new hatchback, creating a little over 1,000 jobs in the plant and the supply chain by 2014, is a further indication of the confidence in continued productivity in an excellent manufacturing facility in the region.
This announcement was complemented by the news that Technip Offshore Wind is to develop a new Tyneside base. It is anticipation of an emerging offshore wind manufacturing cluster and the icing on the cake came in the form of Offshore Group Newcastle’s (OGN) decision to create a further 1,000 jobs in Wallsend, supported by a DECC development grant, fabricating foundations for offshore turbines.
This good news comes on the back of an earlier Nissan announcement and the Hitachi development taking shape in Newton Aycliffe; all very welcome boosts for manufacturing, which demonstrate what a key sector this is for the North East and a very welcome antidote to ongoing job losses elsewhere. Nissan and OGN are both companies that have prioritised apprenticeships in their current businesses and these expansions will hopefully enable both companies to add to their apprenticeship intake.
The availability of skilled workers will be a key factor in determining whether or not the region will be able to accrue maximum benefit from these sectoral developments. The age of the current workforce alone will mean that around 8,000 new entrants to engineering and advanced manufacturing will be needed over the next eight to 10 years just for the industry to maintain current levels.
The indications are that oil and gas, the automotive sector and offshore wind manufacturing are all sectors that offer significant potential for expansion. In seeking to provide the right skills, it is vital that employers, skills providers, skills agencies and schools all work together to ensure the most successful regional economic outcome.
Not enough employers in the sector invest in training or provide apprenticeships, a constant frustration to those, like Nissan, that invest heavily in this area. There are no current plans in Government to compel those that don’t train to do so. It is not easy to introduce safeguards to stop those employers poaching instead of coaching; a training levy would be effective, but does not have industry-wide support.
Perhaps there should be at least increased tax incentives for those companies that consistently invest in apprenticeships and training. One barrier that remains a challenge is enabling school leavers to understand the significant opportunities that do exist and here, business and schools need to work more closely together to present engineering as a positive career choice, as it surely is one.
:: Kevin Rowan, Regional Secretary, Northern TUC