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Personnel professionals have been urged to work with partners to address skills gaps and realise the potential for the offshore wind industry to transform the Humber.

That was the message from executives of Siemens, which is creating world-class offshore wind manufacturing and assembly facilities in Hull, and other speakers at the first conference focused on workforce recruitment and training and development issues posed by the region’s burgeoning renewables sector.  

Mike Jones, Siemens’ UK Human Resources Director for Energy, spelled out the scale of the gaps in engineering and technical skills vital to the offshore wind industry and many other sectors.

He said an example was the shortfall in engineering apprentices. There was annual need for 69,000 level 3 engineering apprenticeships in the UK, but the number had actually fallen from 27,000 to 23,500. At level 4, the annual demand for engineers was 87,000, but the supply was just 47,000.

He told the Transforming the Humber conference, staged by the Humber branch of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD): “The situation is not sustainable. Unless we do something about the skills gaps we’ll have some big issues.

“The bottom line is that, if we want to meet the challenges of the next 10 years, we have to double the number of engineers coming through each year.”

Mr Jones added: “So my message to you is ‘find the right partners and work together’.  Whilst we have our own facilities, including our £8 million training centre in Newcastle delivering  120,000 hours worth of training each year, collaboration with other employers as part  of meeting skills needs is a major priority.

“Growing our own is a fundamental part of what we do, but only a part. It’s also about working with our partners in the region and across the UK.”

He said Siemens had a wide range of recruitment, training and development partners. These included Talent Retention Solutions (TRS), a collaboration of employers to safeguard engineering skills in the UK. TRS manages a national database linking people with engineering skills at level 3 or above with employers with available jobs.

“It’s a first-class way of complementing your sourcing strategy, by using and contributing to the database,” said Mr Jones. “It’s just one example of employers doing good work to make sure that engineers who lose their jobs don’t end up becoming taxi drivers.”

He also praised the work of Energy and Utility Skills, an employer-led membership organisation that ensures businesses in these sectors have the skills they need, now and in the future.

“We sit around the table with our competitors and also our customers to work on a common skills agenda,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for employers to join a collaborative effort.”

Carolyn Woolway, Siemens’ Head of Human Resources for the Hull project, told the conference at the Mercure Hull Grange Park Hotel employing 1,000 people for the facilities at Alexandra Dock in the city was a “huge HR undertaking”.

She stressed Siemens was working closely with partners to ensure the region gained the fullest benefit from unprecedented investment.

She said: “I was challenged recently by someone who said ‘you’re Siemens. You’ll come in and take all the jobs’. Well, we’re not here to be bad corporate citizens. We’re here to be part of the community and to work with local businesses.

“I’m from Hull and very protective of the city, so my door is always open to talk to other businesses about the impact we might have.

“In terms of collaboration we have a huge amount of activity going on, including excellent partnership working with Hull City Council, East Riding Council, JobCentre Plus and others.”

Siemens’ Hull Project Director Finbarr Dowling gave the conference an overview of the investment at Alexandra Dock and said it was an opportunity to drive innovation and reduce costs.

He said: “Innovation and investment in places such as Hull will, we believe, enable us to make turbine blades better, faster and of higher quality. That will, ultimately, drive down the cost of electricity from offshore wind.

“The industry needs to invest and to improve its quality and productivity and we believe, in Siemens, we can do that exceptionally well here on the Humber.”

He also stressed the range of career opportunities in the industry, which extended far beyond turbine manufacturing, assembly and installation.

He added: “It’s an enormous industry and what Siemens is doing in Hull is just one piece of it.”

Other speakers at the conference echoed the importance of partnerships, and stressed the need for the development of a talent “pipeline” through employers engaging with young people from primary age onwards.

Another recurring theme was the need for vocational education to be valued and prioritised.

Prof Calie Pistorius, Vice Chancellor of the University of Hull, highlighted the important role of employer-led University Technical Colleges, which are to be established in Scunthorpe and Hull. “We need to train people not just for their first job, but for lifetime careers,” he said.