SOME of the biggest names in Scotland’s electronics sector are banding together to fill a skills gap that threatens to drive investment overseas.
Derek Boyd, chief executive of NMI, the electronics industry’s trade body, has warned that Scottish companies could head abroad if more is not done to bring graduates into the industry.
The number of students applying to study electronic engineering has dropped by 35 per cent over the past decade, according to figures from the Universities & Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas).
Now businesses have joined forces to tackle the problem and will next month hold a five-day event at Edinburgh University to convince more students to follow a career in their sector.
Linn Products technical director Keith Robertson and Wolfson Microelectronics chief technology officer Peter Frith are among the big names who will take part in the event.
About 50 students will attend the workshops, which are the first of their kind to be organised by the UK Electronics Skills Foundation (ESF), which brings together academia, industry and the public sector to tackle the skills shortage.
The ESF – which is supported by companies including ARM Holdings, Cambridge Silicon Radio and Jaguar Land Rover – has also organised a scholarship scheme, with businesses sponsoring students during their university courses.
Boyd warned it was “inevitable” that Scottish companies would start to move overseas if the skills shortage was not tackled and pointed to British firms such as ARM that opened bases abroad in order to recruit engineers.
“Companies are driven by their shareholders and they’re not wedded to Scotland,” he said. “This is a globally competitive market and, essentially, companies will locate their design centres where the skills are available. The ultimate outcome of this skills shortage would be the inevitable decline of the sector as a whole.”
Boyd blamed the skills gap on the negative effect of large electronics companies – such as Freescale, Motorola and NCR – shedding thousands of jobs in Scotland.
Scottish Government figures estimate the electronics sector generates £2.6 billion for the economy each year and employs 8,400 people, down from 48,000 in 2000 in the heyday of “Silicon Glen”.
Polly Purvis, executive director of IT trade body ScotlandIS, has said the same issue affects other technology firms when it comes to recruiting staff.
Frith admitted that Wolfson was considering opening design centres in Europe because of the skills shortage in Scotland. Last year, the company aimed to recruit 20 graduates but could only take on 12 because of a lack of suitable candidates.
“It’s not just about quantity but about quality too,” Frith said. “We operate on a global stage and so we need the top people in the world.”
Robertson said that, while Linn is committed to its base in Glasgow, he has always had difficulties in finding enough recruits.
“We need to get across the message that electronics is a creative industry,” he said.
“It’s not just musicians who can be creative but also the engineers that make equipment.”
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