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Engineering skills gap costs Northern Ireland £21m

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A new report reveals that the engineering skills gap in Northern Ireland is costing the local economy £21m a year.

For the first time in Northern Ireland, Semta – the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies – has reviewed the demand for skills from employers, the available supply of education and training, and any key gaps and mismatches.

It has published the results in its Skills Balance Sheet, funded by the Department for Education and Learning, which reveals:

•There is an urgent need to provide skills training for over 14,000 employees in the sector, to address a skills gap across management and core technical staff

•This skills gap in Northern Ireland’s engineering sector costs its economy £21m a year

•23% of companies believe they have a skills gap

•The average Gross Value Added to the Northern Irish
economy per employee for the engineering industry was £40,000 in 2005, significantly higher than the figure of £33,000 for all sectors of the economy in Northern Ireland

•There were an estimated 535 hard-to-fill vacancies within engineering establishments in Northern Ireland

•Between 2008 and 2014, 8,000 skilled new jobs need to be created to replace workers leaving the industry due to retirement or other reasons

•13% of employees have no qualifications

Semta is planning to address the skills gap through a partnership with the Engineering Training Council Northern Ireland (ETC NI) and the National Skills Academy for Manufacturing, which has just launched its office in Northern Ireland.

The National Skills Academy for Manufacturing was set up as part of ETC NI to address the issues raised in the Sector Skills Agreement (SSA). This called for a focus on demand-led skills (skills and training programmes developed in-line with the requirements of manufacturing employers) and a less confusing training market that offered clear pathways to world-class skills that could boost the UK economy.

Semta and ETC NI will help employers in Northern Ireland to fix these problems through the Skills Academy. It will work with employers to select the best training to maximise returns and ensure the business benefits of world-class skills are sustained after the training has been completed.

It will help training providers by validating them against industry-recognised levels of competence and has already trained and validated those at all six of Northern Ireland’s further education colleges. It will also offer support for employees, helping them prepare for, undertake, and sustain the personal and business benefits of training long after courses have ended.

Lynn Tomkins, UK policy director of Semta, said: “Engineering employers in Northern Ireland need to meet the challenge of staying competitive in tough market conditions by improving competitiveness and productivity.

“This can be achieved by developing training plans and investing in their employees as the proven path to improving the business bottom line. Semta welcomes the opportunity to work with the new Skills Academy to deliver the skills and training employers in Northern Ireland are crying out for.”

Bob Gibbon, managing director at the Skills Academy, said: “We have already supported the development of training providers in Northern Ireland’s further education colleges, ensuring they have the advanced skills to deliver the right training and are validated against industry-recognised levels of competence.

“We will now turn our focus to working with employers to identify and implement the programmes they need to plug the skills gaps in their workforce and deliver real business benefits.”

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