North East Connected

Engineering skills for the future

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 14.36.19THE NORTH East’s engineering sector must rise to its skills challenges, if it is to avoid becoming the victim of its own success, according to a senior leader at one of the region’s largest colleges.

Iain Nixon, director of commercial enterprise at Sunderland College, has urged engineering businesses to assess their skills needs, after new figures revealed that the sector has surpassed London for growth over the past year.

Sunderland College is already working with businesses in the field to help them train up young apprentices and upskill existing teams and Mr Nixon believes that the North East must stay ahead of the game, when it comes to training and development, if it is to avoid customer demand outstripping capacity.  His warning comes after figures released by Nixon Williams, an accountancy provider to the engineering sector, showed that between 2014 and 2015 the number of engineering businesses in the North East jumped by 17.6 per cent from 595 to 700.

He said: “The growth that the engineering sector has seen over the course of the last 12 months is incredible, and the region should be rightly proud of its record in this field.  The rate of growth shows just what this region is made of.

“However, with success comes challenge, and principally, the challenge the region will undoubtedly face is meeting the future skills needs of this growing industry.   The only solution is for us to get ahead by investing in skills.  We are already facing skills shortages, and – given the rate of growth the sector is seeing – it is hard to imagine where we will be as a region if we do not deal with it now.  It could well have a crippling effect on the sector.”

The 17.6 per cent growth seen in the region compares favourably to a 5 per cent increase in engineering businesses across the UK as a whole, from 20,490 to 21,510, and the 11.8 per cent jump seen in London over the past year from 1,985 to 2,220.

Nixon Williams’ research also showed that skills shortages in engineering are starting to become more prevalent in the North East.

“Thousands of people will retire from their roles in engineering over the coming years, and we are simply not training new people in the same number, let alone the number of people we will need if we are to take into account the growth of the industry.

“We can pull this back, but it will take immediate investment from players – big and small – in this sector.  Everyone needs to do their bit.”

Sunderland College is gearing up to support the expected increase in students choosing to pursue a role in engineering, with the build of a £29m city centre campus that will include an engineering hub.

“We already have hundreds of students of all ages studying subjects with a view to progressing into a career in engineering. These range from A-Levels and BTECs to apprenticeships and HNDs. City campus will enable us to build upon this strong foundation and prepare our students for a successful and long career in engineering, whilst at the same time meet both the current and emerging needs of the industry.”

The college already has a proven track record in the delivery of a host of qulaifications for the engineering industry including fabrication and welding, electrical and electronics and manufacturing and engineering. The new campus, which opens in September, will allow the college to deliver an increased range of engineering programmes including robotics.

“It’s not just about apprentices.  It’s also about succession planning – leadership development and ongoing training to keep the North East skills base ahead of the rest.  We’re preparing to support businesses, and we urge them to prepare too.”

For more information about Sunderland College and its new city campus, visit or

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