Fears over engineer numbers training for recovery

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INDUSTRY experts have raised new concerns about the lack of qualified engineers coming through the ranks in Scotland, saying it will make it hard to deliver a “significant pipeline of work” expected as the economy picks up.

Keith Gowenlock, Edinburgh-based director of global engineering consultancy WSP, says that with more than 34,000 jobs being created in the oil and gas sector alone in Scotland over the next two years and civil infrastructure projects also set to increase, firms need to work with universities to make sure they have access to suitably qualified candidates.

“There are major public sector projects in transport, hospitals and rail, all of which will require engineers,” he said.

He also expects a growing demand from the housing sector when it finally comes out of its slump.

Gowenlock has urged Edinburgh Napier University to do all it can to increase its intake of students on engineering courses, and ensure that it gets the best possible candidates into the sector. He has also been working with the university to ensure its courses match the changing requirements of the industry.

“It’s not just the volume of people, but having the right skill-sets for the new challenges,” he says. “We need lots of very bright people, who can think outside the box.”

But Ian Smith, head of Napier’s School of Engineering and the Built Environment, says he is struggling to get young people interested in enrolling as many still wrongly perceive engineering to be “dirty” and poorly paid.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “We always get enough people to run the courses, but it’s an effort and involves us working hard with school-leavers.”

He said the faculty has spare capacity for able students, but there is now such a wide choice of university courses, all competing for candidates. He said Scottish engineers are well respected internationally, providing an excellent export opportunity that firms will only be able to take advantage of if they have enough workers.

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