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But the boss still fears skill shortage

DESPITE being singled out by the Scottish Executive for his company's commitment to lifelong learning, Calum McPherson of Johnstone Castings and Engineering has lambasted official inactivity over skill shortages in manufacturing industry.

Mr McPherson says his biggest challenge is in recruiting skilled engineers. He has written directly to Wendy Alexander, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, stating: "The extreme shortage of people with these skills simply has to be addressed urgently to enable our prosperity as a truly competitive nation in manufacturing."

He said shortages were being exacerbated by the lack of take-up of modern apprenticeships. The Executive has set a target of having 20,000 apprentices in training by 2003; the latest figure is 5,760.

Henry McLeish, the First Minister, told last week's launch of the Scottish University for Industry that this was a doubling of the previous target.

But Mr McPherson's letter expresses scepticism about whether placements are in the right employment sectors and suggests that there is no real strategy to encourage manufacturing companies to recruit modern apprentices. He points out that each modern apprenticeship in England will attract funding of pound;12,500 in 2003 compared with pound;8,500 in Scotland.

Mr McPherson says an analysis is required to work out how many trainees are required to meet the shortages and to plan for at least 10 years ahead. More awareness of career opportunities in manufacturing also needed to be built among pupils.

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