Safety and reliability could be jeopardised by skills shortage

Paul Boughton

Safety and reliability standards across all manufacturing sectors could be compromised if the number of engineers specialising in non-destructive testing (NDT) and condition monitoring (CM) continues to decline, warns the British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (BINDT).

Cameron Sinclair, CEO of BINDT, said: “The UK punches above its weight in NDT and CM, but we are becoming increasingly aware of an emerging skills shortage. Many highly skilled and experienced engineers are reaching retirement age, whilst too few young people are choosing to enter the profession. The result is an ageing workforce.”

Though largely unseen, NDT and CM are used all around us. They are required, for example, in the inspection of airplane parts, bridges, power stations and railway lines. These testing techniques are critical to ensuring materials, components and structures are manufactured to the correct standards and function optimally throughout their lifecycles.

“The ramifications of an NDT and CM skills shortage are profound,” continued Mr Sinclair. “A lack of qualified NDT and CM engineers could result in safety and reliability standards being compromised.”

Mr Sinclair’s comments follow the publication of a report into UK engineering by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Professor John Perkins’ Review of Engineering Skills describes a ‘substantial demand for engineers in the UK economy.’ He calls for a co-ordinated, long-term strategy to ‘increase the supply of engineers at both professional and technician level in the UK.’

This need was also highlighted in an EngineeringUK poll of 1000 UK children aged 11-14. The survey, published in October, showed that less than one in 10 (7 per cent) plan to be engineers when they finish school.  

Mr Sinclair remarked: “Too few young people are pursuing careers in engineering. Of those, even fewer specialise in NDT and CM. This needs to change if the UK is to maintain its position as a world leader in these engineering disciplines.”

BINDT works closely with providers of further and higher education to incorporate NDT and CM into vocational curricula. Its Personnel Certification in Non-Destructive Testing (PCN) scheme is used to certify engineers based in over 100 countries.  The Institute also sponsors Arkwright engineering scholarships, designed to create a pipeline of top talent into the engineering profession.

However, Mr Sinclair believes much more can be done. “The industry needs to work together to inspire a whole new generation of engineers,” he said. “BINDT supports Professor John Perkins’ review and looks forward to cooperating with other industry leaders to implement a successful engineering skills growth strategy.”

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