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Sat October 31 2020

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Industry leader warns that the UK risks coming to a standstill if the skills issue is not addressed

7 Oct 10 An industry leader warned today that the UK will not have the manpower to undertake major infrastructure projects if the skills sector does not invest in developing apprentices.

Di Johnson, President of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), warned that a failure to invest in the next generation of skilled workers may result in a crisis which would take the country years to recover from. Johnson cautions: “If we don’t develop the next generation now, there will come a time when we don’t have the resources to deliver major infrastructure projects.” 

She goes on to explain: “I work in the electrical industry where the average age is around 45. This is largely the same across much of the craft sector and means we could face serious problems in five years time as these skilled individuals start retiring from the profession, or look to take a less physical office-based job. If we fail to invest in skills we simply will not have sufficient numbers to replace them. This will impact hugely on major infrastructure projects such as the planned high speed train link between London and Frankfurt, and would leave us high and dry if we were successful in our bid to host the 2018 World Cup.” 

She continued: “Electrical, and heating and ventilating professionals, are the frontline troops responsible for delivering the sustainability agenda. These professionals can advise and properly install energy saving technology to ensure maximum efficiency. Without an increase in numbers in these sectors we will not be able to hit the UK’s ambitious carbon reduction targets.”

Johnson went on to highlight the Government’s pledge to create 50,000 apprenticeship places in 2011 as a step in the right direction but questioned: “How many of the 50,000 places will be craft apprenticeships? The Government needs to use this opportunity to develop advanced skills in industries which are crying out for new blood.” 

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She also warned that the Government’s pledge would “amount to nothing” if it persists in penalising employers by forcing them to pay more for taking on apprentices, as has been suggested in the recent BIS consultation on Skills.* Johnson continues: “We need to convince firms to employ apprentices, but the only way I can see this happening is if the Government continues to offer them financial support to current levels to ease the short term burden of investing in the future. In this current climate, firms – particularly SMEs – simply don’t have the money to invest.” 

Johnson adds: “I know how expensive apprentices are to train, as my firm has trained more than 300 over the past 60 years, but I firmly believe they are an investment, and a very worthwhile one. Employers know this, but in these challenging financial times, the Government needs to do more than simply recognise this, and instead offer firms practical, financial support to develop the next generation.” 

Johnson finishes by saying: “If we don’t start investing in the craft sector now, the UK is going to face a bumpy ride in the future. This country used to be the industrial heartland of the world and it would be a sad day if we were to come to a grinding halt because we haven’t got the people to maintain and develop our built environment and transport infrastructure.” 

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