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Warning over engineering skill shortage

A businessman who runs a thriving engineering firm in Ayrshire has called on the Government to act to address a shortage of skilled workers which is constraining the growth of the sector.

FRUSTRATION: Robert Bradford says many firms are not able to fulfil their potential. Picture: James Galloway
FRUSTRATION: Robert Bradford says many firms are not able to fulfil their potential. Picture: James Galloway

The Ayrshire Precision Engineering business run by Robert Bradford is on course to achieve a second successive year of rapid growth in sales and profits helped by booming demand from oil and gas firms.

However, Mr Bradford complained the company may not be able to realise its potential because of the difficulties it faces recruiting skilled machinists.

"There's a huge potential for growth. If it were not for the shortage of manpower, we could have better turnover," said Mr Bradford who is trying to recruit around 10 engineers.

A 45-year veteran of the engineering industry, Mr Bradford said other sector players are facing a similar struggle to get enough staff with skills in areas like computer-aided CNC engineering.

Doctor Peter Hughes, chief executive of Scottish Engineering, said firms across Scotland were struggling to recruit enough skilled staff, particularly in CNC engineering.

"I was told by a family business in Fife that they turned away a £1 million contract recently because they could not get enough staff," Dr Hughes told The Herald.

Mr Bradford believes the problems faced by companies in the Ayrshire region partly stem from the decline in heavy industry in the area in recent decades, as well as cost-cutting.

"When we had a recession 10 or 12 years ago, companies were reducing their manpower and in many cases cutting back or not employing any apprentices at all. We are now suffering a skill shortage," Mr Bradford said.

But Mr Bradford put the onus on the Scottish Government to boost the supply of skilled staff in the short term.

While Ayrshire Precision Engineering takes on apprentices every year, Mr Bradford does not believe the Government-backed Modern Apprenticeship scheme will produce enough workers to fill the skills gap in the timeframe required.

The programme requires a four-year commitment which people with families to support may be reluctant to commit to.

He said ministers should follow the approach taken in past recessions and establish training programmes that could equip people with the right skills in a matter of months.

Mr Bradford claimed this could be an affective way of helping people who have lost work amid the downturn in the construction sector gain skills that could lead to work in engineering.

Privately owned Ayshire Precision Engineering is on course to grow turnover to £2m in the current year, compared with £1.7m in the 12 months to March. The company had £1.2m turnover in the preceding year.

Based in Coylton, Ayr, the company more than doubled profits in the year to March, to £368,353, compared with £102,000 in the preceding year.

With 30 staff currently, the company is working a 24-hour shift system. It is offering overtime continuously. A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government is committed to providing 25,000 modern apprenticeship opportunities in each year of this Parliament, targeting the majority of opportunities at young people to support their transition into the world of work.

"In addition, we have invested in other training and learning options to support employers such as 7000 flexible training opportunities in 2012/13."

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