Skills transferability key to recovery of UK engineering

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Government and industry need a better understanding of how skilled workers can move between sectors to help  UK engineering prevent lasting unemployment, says the ECITB

New research – ‘Skills Transferability in the Engineering Construction Industry’ – reveals the similarities in skills of engineers in the many sectors that support Britain’s energy and processing infrastructure, from renewables to oil and gas, nuclear and pharmaceuticals.

It also identifies barriers to skills transferability, such as ingrained workplace attitudes and recruitment practices that compartmentalise trades and occupations unnecessarily and place an unhelpful restriction on the mobility of workers.

The research, carried out on behalf of the ECITB by Pye Tait Consulting, comprised desk research and interviews with 30 employers, 13 stakeholders and five recruitment agencies as well as a workshop with the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group (NSSG).

With the most severe economic impact from Covid-19 felt in the oil and gas industry, a sector already under pressure – the ECITB asserts that with proper planning and coordination, the pandemic presents an opportunity to accelerate transition to a carbon-free economy.

However, if we do not act quickly, we risk losing thousands of engineers who have the requisite skills to deliver decarbonisation.

In response, the ECITB is urging the UK, Welsh and Scottish governments to put in place measures to support the reskilling of oil and gas workers for jobs in other sectors and industries to support the transition away from fossil fuels.

Prevent lasting unemployment

Chris Claydon, chief executive of the ECITB, said: “Before the pandemic hit, the UK’s engineering construction industry faced persistent skills shortages and despite the economic downturn and current pressures, our expectation is that overall workforce demand will continue to exceed supply over the coming decades.

“While skills transferability is pursued to a limited extent through the UK Government’s National Retraining Scheme, with careful planning and greater focus on sectoral needs, many highly skilled roles that are transferable across engineering construction sectors could be more easily moved.

“Economic pressures from Covid-19 and oil price depression could see the UK haemorrhage skilled workers. The government needs to act quickly on this dual opportunity to deliver against our net-zero commitment and prevent lasting unemployment in our industrial heartlands.”

The report recommends:

  • An industry-wide mapping exercise to catalogue skills sets and occupations in the ECI with transferable skills requirements and to identify which occupations and skills will be in greater or lesser demand in the future;
  • Development of a guide for employers on the benefits of skills transferability to inform their recruitment processes.
  • Creation of sector-specific skills passports, such as a single energy sector skills passport that demonstrates competence assurance for an individual. This should be based on the ECITB’s Connected Competence model.
  • A promotional campaign targeting potential transferees already working in the industry for roles in growing sectors and industrial decarbonisation projects.
  • Educational programmes to equip young people with a breadth of skills and a mind-set that allows for flexibility.
  • The government should dedicate funding earmarked for the National Skills Fund to support adults and young people to gain transferable skills.
  • The Construction Talent Retention Scheme should incorporate reskilling and retraining interventions to ensure that workers are occupationally competent and can transfer easily into new roles.

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