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A shortage of skilled workers hits engineering industry

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Leeds-based Surgical Innovations designs and manufactures surgery equipment. It’s a highly complex process: “This isn’t just about pressing a button on a machine,” says Birtles. “You have to know what you’re doing.”

It has become increasingly difficult to track down qualified staff to operate the equipment.

Birtles is disheartened by the situation: “We want to be the number one manufacturer of resposable (sic: disposable or re-usable) non-invasive surgical tools in the world. But even if I buy in enough machines to step up production, there’s no one to run them.”

Well, you know what they say. If you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself.

“I’ve started taking on apprentices,” says Birtles. “We train them up on the job. It’s expensive, but it’s the only way to get good people.”

It costs the company between £5-6,000 per year, on top of salaries, for each apprentice. “They attend college on day release for one or two days a week. We absorb that cost. It’s an investment in the future of the company.” says Birtles.

Apprentices start as young as 16 and receive full engineering training at the plant. “We currently have three apprentices here on site,” says Birtles. “They’re good lads, they’re keen. And it’s great for us to see them coming through the business.”

It’s a chilling thought: this £5m-turnover company, with profits of over half a million plans to double in size year-on-year, and the only spanner in the works is a lack of qualified people.

“We’ve got to encourage the youth,” says Birtles. “Engineering isn’t seen as cool any more. They all want to do media studies.”

“Other companies need to start doing this or we will face a massive skills shortage.”

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