Powerful plea to protect Energy Estuary's future by bridging the skills gap

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 11 May 2018

The Humber's leading engineering advocate has used his organisation’s annual dinner to urge members to do “everything in their power” to make sure the future of the Energy Estuary is in safe hands.

Brendan Conlan, chair of  process industry partnership Catch, and managing director of Immingham-headquartered On Line Design and Engineering, presided over a record attendance at the celebratory event last night.

Speaking directly to 300 guests, he said: “I was in the presence of a fellow engineer today, showing him round the Catch facility, 12 years after it opened. I have been on the Catch board for seven years now and feel very lucky to have been a custodian on that board, and there are lots of people who have done far more before my time who helped establish Catch. It is getting national recognition, and is a quite unique centre.

“Seeing the Hughes Building being used is excellent, apprentices working away at tool benches and welding bays, scaffolders learning their trade as well as a whole host of other learners, that’s what Catch is about. It is about learning skills, keeping skills, investment in our trades, our workers, for UK Plc.

“Catch was built by you the members, it is used by you the members. At times we know it hasn’t been easy, there have been financial difficulties, we have had to find our way through turbulent times, times like now. I look at apprenticeship numbers and they are down. At a time when the country needs investment in skills. 

“I want people to go away and look at what they are doing for apprenticeship programmes and for young people. That’s what we should be investing in, and that’s what Catch is for. Anyone with power and influence needs to look at how we can get numbers up. We have a big issue coming straight at us. 200,000 voices are represented by the Catch organisation. We are unique, we need to wield that voice as one.”

Quoting Winston Churchill’s lines about the British people being the only kind ‘who like to be told the worst’, he said: “From the Humber we need to show the rest of the UK it is not applicable here. We want to show how good things can be and how we can move things forward.

“I know Catch is unique and I’m very proud to be part of Catch. I know a lot of companies are very proud to be associated with Catch. I would like that to be accelerated across the UK. We think we can deliver a lot of the skills the UK needs. We still need skills and we are in the right place to push for the skills and I need the help of everybody in the room and every organisation everybody represents. Without that I’m not sure about some of the rocky roads and how turbulent the journey may be.”

His call was echoed by guest speaker Andy Green OBE, the Bloodhound driver who holds the record for clocking 763 mph back in 1997, and has now set his sights on 1,000 mph.

He said: “I am amazed at what you achieve, and the two fit so well together so I jumped at the chance to come here. You are already generating, inspiring the next generation of engineers for the future. We are doing it through the medium of the land speed record.”

The high-ranking RAF officer, a fast jet pilot, is back on mission, motivated by competition from abroad and the need to enthuse children.

“This is a useless device, this is not a practical technology,” he said of the 17m long, 4m wide beast, a completely new model to that which propelled him to global fame 21 years ago on a desert strip, while explaining why they are going gain.

“It is a great focus for UK Plc, and it does excite a lot of people about science and technology,” he said. “There is competition, but so what? I care, most probably don’t. The skills gap needs filling, if anything it is growing. Apprentices are our future, and the next generation of people who can do something like Bloodhound will build our technology-enabled world around us. Technology is just racing ahead, yet more undergraduates are studying psychology than mechanical engineering.

“We are never going to get the high-tech low carbon world, we are never going to get there, but we’ll fine as there will be plenty of people to talk to about it.  

“It is not just about building a fast car, it is creating an adventure.”

Mr Green told how 20 million people had already viewed footage of slow runs (under 200mph) to understand the car. Putting it into context, he said: “It is about using our experience in aerospace, motorsport, technology and project management, it is about pushing back the boundaries to show this to a global audience to capture and engage the kids who will one day be engineers of the future.” 

A former neighbour in officers’ mess with David Talbot, Catch chief executive, his host at Hallmark Hotel North Ferriby had earlier told of the steps being taken on an international level from Stallingborough to Oman, Massachusetts and British Columbia. “We have some exciting opportunities regionally, nationally and internationally,” he said, outlining that vision to be a National Centre of Excellence for Industry, and the role played to support regional position on Brexit, Industrial Strategy, the Apprenticeship Levy as well as traditional energy, chemical and petrochemical industries as well as the burgeoning renewables sector. 

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