I was invited to the BAE Systems shipyard at Govan in Glasgow for a media day. Along with others I was given a very informative and detailed breakdown of the plans the firm has for the overall Type 26 Frigate project. These include plans for a new shipbuilding hall as well as investing in their current workers and the skills of new apprentices.
One thing that really shone through in conversations with the management at BAE Systems was the references to “our people” and “our teams”. One gets the impression management cares about their staff and, just as importantly, the industry. That impression was reinforced when the discussion moved to BAE Systems’ intention to establish an industry-led Applied Shipbuilding Academy.
A wide range of skills will be taught, from welding to management
Nadia Savage, Business Operations Director at BAE Systems, described the plans for an academy and why it’s important to the industry.
“In the past, there’s no secret that shipbuilding, like many other industries, has gone through a cyclical kind of movement and that has had an impact on skills, not just in shipbuilding but across manufacturing in the UK generally.
“The Applied Shipbuilding Academy is very much about emphasising skills that are needed in this sector. It is not just about our trade groups. It is about every part of the business that’s needed to plan, deliver and integrate these complex systems at a better price point and faster than we have in the past.”
Nadia Savage also described part of the scope of the academy and how it will work. More importantly, how it will benefit the 190 new apprentices BAE Systems plan to bring on next year:
“It is the shop floor to the boardroom and all the skills in between, we will be majoring in on our trades and all those applied to practical skills, it’s about giving them a really good apprenticeship experience really getting hands-on.”
I was told this will involve welding and electrical experience on large sections of metal designed to mimic ships hulls, and not just the conventional approach of learning the trade in a classroom environment.
BAE Systems is also keen to include the wider industry and academia in these plans, saying, “the doors are open. This is about the industry collaboration that’s needed. And other parts of the maritime industry are being encouraged to join us in this endeavour.”
Over one thousand apprentices by 2027
BAE Systems employs around 3,500 people across its two sites in Glasgow, and the firm said in a submission to the Scottish Affairs Committee that it continues to invest in bringing new talent into the business. “Since construction started on HMS Glasgow in 2017, the business has recruited over 400 apprentices and projects to recruit a further 650 over the next 5 years.
“In addition, Naval Ships maintains an annual graduate intake programme and has also welcomed new recruits through the Movement to Work and Kickstart programmes in recent years. The business is actively recruiting a further 400 trades roles to support the construction of the Type 26 City Class frigates for the Royal Navy.”
More recently, the drive from the Scottish Government to sustain and increase local employment is, it is hoped, supported by BAE Systems’ investments in digital infrastructure and high technology skills.
Furthermore, BAE Systems has a strategic partnership with the University of Strathclyde, recognising its role as a leading International Technological University supporting the company with advanced science, technology and manufacturing.
Better placed to compete internationally
According to BAE Systems, it “intends to establish the industry-led Applied Shipbuilding Academy to deliver capabilities at scale, to ensure that current and future employees within the industry can perform, innovate, and grow in priority areas of strategic importance to the shipbuilding and maritime industry.”
BAE Systems, I’m told, see this as a crucial part of their effort to not only design ships on the Clyde for other countries but to build them there too, alongside their Royal Navy work. The shipbuilding academy has the potential to breathe life back into a more confident Clydeside, now all they have to do is fill in the order book.