CHEMICALS companies at Grangemouth are considering ways to recreate the central training policies of the big companies as part of efforts to provide more apprentices for Scotland’s second-largest export sector.
Under ICI and BP, the giant industrial complex on the Forth trained apprentices who would then be distributed across the sector.
But since the break-up of ICI and its £8 billion sale to Dutch conglomerate Akzo Nobel in 2008, smaller companies have only taken on the trainees they can afford.
That has left a shortage of chemical engineers across the UK, with fast-growing emerging markets such as China also hoovering up talent.
Businesses at Grangemouth are now drawing up plans to create a modern apprenticeship scheme that can operate across the sector as a whole rather than just for individual companies.
At present, the Scottish Government can only support training schemes run by individual business, but the skills group at industry body Chemical Sciences Scotland (CSS) is now working on plans for an industry-wide programme.
The chemical sciences industry in Scotland generates nearly £3bn worth of overseas sales, making it the second-largest export sector after food and drink.
CSS unveiled an “ambitious” strategy in May to increase exports by 50 per cent by 2020. But CSS chairman Sandy Dobbie told Scotland on Sunday that finding enough apprentices to meet the lack of chemical engineers was a key requirement to help grow the industry in Scotland.
“This idea came out of discussions we had about what used to happen when you had the likes of BP and ICI at Grangemouth,” Dobbie explained. “The way ICI worked was that it trained a substantial number of people and then each of its divisions would take on people. But now that ICI has been split up into ten or more operating companies, that doesn’t happen any more.”
Dobbie added: “We’re looking at whether the bigger companies can take on more apprentices than they need and then the smaller companies can ‘buy’ trained staff rather than having to fund the whole training programme themselves.”
His comments came ahead of tomorrow’s annual Chemical Sciences Scotland conference at Airth Castle when more than 100 delegates will gather to thrash out plans for how to grow the sector.
Figures released by CSS showed that the number of apprentices taken on by companies at Grangemouth this year had risen by nearly a quarter year on year to 27 from 22.
A training scheme run by refinery owner Ineos with Forth Valley College and Heriot-Watt University takes on a further four apprentices each year.
ICI – or Imperial Chemical Industries – was founded in 1926 through the merger of four of Britain’s largest chemical companies. In its heyday, it was the largest company in the British empire.
Under the leadership of Sir John Harvey Jones during the 1980s, the company – which was best-known for its Dulux brand of paint – became the first in Britain to post a £1bn profit. The group’s drugs business was spun off to create AstraZeneca.