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Global Switchgear Services highlights industry skills shortage

A landlocked electrical engineering company is celebrating a series of contracts at sea but its bosses are struggling to find the next generation of talent to take over the tiller.

Global Switchgear Services, Rochdale, has won new work off Aberdeen, Sicily and Singapore worth a total of £350,000.

The Aberdeen contract involves testing the propulsion systems of oil rig support vessels in the North Sea to ensure that they comply with new safety legislation.

Work in Palermo, Sicily, will see GSS assist in upgrading the new ship operated by the SAGA travel company.

However, while the company is succeeding in securing new contracts, its founders – all aged around 60 - said they were concerned about a skills shortage in their industry.

Technical director Bob Neumann, one of four shareholding directors at the Buckley Road Industrial Estate-based company, said it was difficult to find the next generation of electrical engineers. He said: "We are aware that there are lots of people looking for jobs right now. Frustratingly, many people confuse the skills of an electrician with those of an electrical engineer, and we receive many CVs from people who aren't really suitable. We are looking for trainees in electrical engineering. The directors are all aged about 60 and we need to find some young people."

Mr Neumann said the closure of Rochdale's Whipp & Bourne site at Castleton means that there is no longer a training ground for electrical engineers in the area. A Rochdale College course for electrical engineers also ceased to operate when Whipp & Bourne closed, Mr Neumann said.

Mr Neumann added: "There was a similar impact when GEC stopped to provide training for apprentices. What used to happen was that companies like ours would recruit newly-qualified electrical engineers and pay them perhaps a pound an hour more to come and work for us. That no longer happens."

Referring to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's recent announcement of a £1bn programme to help firms by paying half the wages of unemployed young people, Mr Neumann said: "I believe that the government needs to rethink the way that the country generates the next generation of talent. Instead of subsidising wages, I believe that they should give the money direct to us in the form of tax breaks so that we can train new entrants to the industry for them. It seems a great shame that we are in a position to create jobs and yet there are not the skills available among the people who want to work for us." GSS currently employs 11 people.