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Clyde task force puts a premium on skills

THE Government's task force report issued last week which confidently anticipates a "secure future for Clyde shipbuilding" puts reskilling and retraining of the workforce at the heart of its plans.

The task force, chaired by Wendy Alexander, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, was set up last July following the announcement of 1,000 redundancies (subsequently reduced to 450) by BAE Systems at its Govan and Scotstoun yards. "The Executive is determined that the Clyde shipyards should have the best skills to win future orders both here and overseas," Ms Alexander said.

In addition to making the existing workforce, including the management, more skilled, there will be renewed efforts to find redundant staff other jobs. A deal has been struck with Transco, for example, to retrain shipyard workers as gas central heating installers and gas operatives, where there are skill shortages. On-site employee support centres will help direct staff to opportunities.

But the skills package for those whose future lies in shipbuilding is a key emphasis in the report. Drawn up by a subgroup of the task force chaired by Stephanie Young of Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, it calls for a "cross-skilled workforce with a common pool of skills".

Examples of this kind of flexibility include steelworkers learning to drive remote control cranes and being retrained to do some electrical work, welders banding electrical cables and sheet metal workers learning to weld.

The report commends BAE Systems for its "virtual university", launched in 1998 "to foster a culture of lifelong learning". The company has 150 modern apprentices in its shipyards and those with the highest potential can move on to a graduate development programme. The task force recommends a learning centre for the Govan yard to complement the one in Scotstoun, and suggests the company make more use of the Learndirect Scotland helpline and database.

BAE is warned, however, that it could still face skill shortages, particularly as competition increases for young people who can take on jobs with the higher level skills that will be required in the future.

Figures prepared for the inquiry show that, while the workforce in Glasgow will grow by another 9,000 within the next six years, it will also age.

The report represents yet another wake-up call to Glasgow schools to raise their educational game. The task force points out that, while the proportion of the city's working population with degrees is ahead of Scotland at 26 per cent, Standard grade and Higher qualifications of leavers continue to lag well behind.

BAE Systems is urged to develop close links with the careers service and Glasgow education department's "going to work in Glasgow" campaign. This will be necessary to attract more modern apprentices but the shipyards will also have to sell themselves to young people as an attractive career.

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