Getting Wales fit for the future needs engineering solutions
Image credit: Jingmin310/Dreamstime
The Welsh government has unveiled strategies aimed at helping industry address the twin challenges of achieving net zero and identifying what skills it needs. Making them work will rely on getting more engineers involved in the decision-making process.
Sometimes politics can be frustrating, especially if your background is in engineering. Planning and solutions were my trade, and politics in the UK, especially recently, is buffeted from one news story to the next.
We face some serious economic problems and perhaps most importantly the problem of climate change that if left unchecked will lead to our destruction. For this we need to plan and seek workable solutions that protect our planet and our communities.
For some time now, the engineer in me has been attracted to the idea of a Green New Deal. An idea that seeks to develop sustainable transport, energy and housing solutions in a way that also addresses the scourge of inequality. Inequality not only ingrains poverty but stifles people’s potential.
In Wales, Economy Minister Vaughan Gething made two statements recently that will be welcomed by anyone who is passionate about the role our manufacturing sector can play in meeting the challenges we face: the Net Zero Skills Strategy and the Innovation Strategy. These plans are an important first step in understanding the role of skills and innovation in making a just transition to net zero.
The challenge to meet our net-zero commitment is huge and we have to embed our approach in our skills plan. This is what Vaughan Gething is committing the Welsh Government to doing, and it starts with working with external stakeholders - especially trainers and industry partners - to gain a picture of the net-zero skills landscape. We must be brutally honest with ourselves about where the skill gaps lie.
We also have play to our strengths. There is no stronger engineering and manufacturing workforce than in the communities I represent in north-east Wales: we are home to Airbus, Toyota, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC Cymru) and Shotton Steel, to name just a few. We must ensure that the transition to net zero expands and protects the skills base in Deeside.
For me that is where the Innovation Strategy comes in. This strategy was developed by Ministers for Health and Social Services, Education and Welsh Language and Climate Change, as well as our Economy Minister. They intend innovation to be a major enabler for Wales that will deliver outcomes such as improved health and wellbeing, high-skilled jobs, and prosperity for all. The Welsh Government wants citizens and communities to feel the benefits.
The main themes are to explore cutting-edge opportunities, enable us to compete more effectively for UK and international funding and investment, focus on our evidence-based areas of strength, and make a contribution for Wales that also adds to the stated UK vision for innovation.
I am passionate about innovation as one of the key drivers to tackling climate change and addressing all challenges inequality brings with it. We are already meeting this challenge in Deeside. Airbus is building the ‘wing of tomorrow’ and Shotton Steel has a real and tangible ambition to go carbon-neutral, but there is so much more to do.
Governments across the world are gearing up to take advantage of new techniques, such as advanced modular housing, innovative renewable energy production and sustainable transport solutions. We cannot be left behind.
We need to listen to those who understand these sectors, which means having more engineers in decision-making roles. This is especially true if we want an end to short-term media-driven politics in favour of an approach that seeks solutions.
Jack Sargeant is the Welsh Labour Member of the Senedd for Alyn and Deeside, and chair of the Petitions Committee at the Senedd. A time-served engineer with a degree in industrial engineering, before being elected he worked as a machinist at DRB Group and as a research and development engineer with Atlas Copco. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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