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Viewpoint:Cashing in on future skills

High-tech manufacturing has considerable potential to boost Britain’s economy over the next few years, delivering significant growth in jobs, according to a GE survey of 400 high-tech manufacturing companies released earlier this month.

While this may not at first seem especially relevant to the civil engineering sector, there are in fact significant parallels as the findings speak volumes about the concerns of business today.

The companies we talked to span a broad range of sectors from car parts, electronic machinery and general engineering, but are united in having technically advanced products or undertaking substantial research and development.

Some of the businesses we interviewed, particularly those specialising in lighting, will be supplying to the civil engineering sector, so it is interesting to see the issues that preoccupy them.

“In common with the business community at large, skills are a challenge”

In common with the business community at large, skills are a challenge. Almost a third of high-tech manufacturers are finding it difficult to recruit people with engineering and manufacturing skills and qualifications. Another 10% felt it was difficult to find applicants with the right commitment and “can-do” attitude while a further (7%) cited a lack of technical and scientific skills.

In the context of the UK’s immigration cap it is interesting to note that almost one-third (32%) of those questioned said they had recruited people from outside of the UK owing to a lack of suitably qualified people from within Britain itself.

Another important parallel for the civil engineering community is the increasing relevance of global markets. Over eight in 10 (82%) of high-tech manufacturers can see at least some of their revenue derived from exports, and, in 10 years’ time 70% expect the most intense competition to come from international markets.

“As global competition intensifies for many, access to the right skills and capital will become increasingly important”

Access to capital investment is as important for the high tech manufacturing sector as for other parts of the business community. Seven in 10 high-tech manufacturers (74%) see this as important or essential to grow but only 10% describe it as readily available and 62% feel it is either impossible to obtain or available on strict or unacceptably strict terms.

Thinking about the principal barriers affecting growth, the top five issues identified by respondents were the nation’s economy (17%), cost of raw materials (16%), funding and capital investment (16%), red tape (12%) and global competition (11%). When asked to identify things that government could do to help business performance top recommendations include increasing training apprenticeships as an alternative to university (16%), reviewing taxation and export duties (16%), reducing red tape (14%) and providing funding (11%).

So, what can the civil engineering sector take from these findings? As global competition intensifies for many, access to the right skills and capital will become increasingly important if businesses are to achieve their full potential.

  • Mark Elborne is GE’s UK president and chief executive officer

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