Wales needs investment to fully exploit SBTL opportunities

Artist's impression - Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon (Images. TLP)
Artist’s impression – Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon (Images. TLP)

With sufficient investment in the manufacturing and construction labour skills, Wales could be well positioned to fully exploit the economic opportunities of the proposed £1.3 billion Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon (SBTL) project, according to the latest Government-commissioned studies.

In early 2015, Welsh Government commissioned SEMTA and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) to produce labour requirement forecasts specifically relating to the manufacturing of turbines for, and construction of, the proposed Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project.

Two separate studies have been published – one produced by CITB and Whole Life Consultants that explores the impact of the construction of the SBTL project on the labour and skills available, and the other produced by Miller Research and SEMTA which forecasts manufacturing and assembly labor requirements for Swansea tidal lagoon.

When it comes to construction requirements, the study forecasts labour demand to peak in 2019 at slightly over 1,000 people, with five occupational groups accounting for over 60% of the forecast labour demand. In terms of skills shortages and gaps the occupations of construction project managers, specialist building operatives, plant operatives, logistics related occupations and maritime occupations were noted as a concern.

TLSB labourConstruction employment growth in Wales is forecast to average 2.9% a year between 2016 and 2020, well above the UK rate of 1.1%, the report states.

However, the report states that despite projected construction growth, trends in further and higher education qualification numbers point to a reduction in the future supply of qualified workers which could pose a real risk in the medium to long term.

The forecasts suggest that in the short term there is capacity in the labour market to enable the construction element of the proposed SBTL, but that this is dependent upon a number of factors including the construction element of other large scale projects that may take place at the same time and the growth in the Welsh construction market.

The study focused on the manufacturing part for the SBTL project found that labour demand for the manufacturing and assembly of the main components required for the project is forecast to support around 1,197 jobs during a 5-year build period.

Additionally, there is also an estimated demand for 28 different types of work continuing for the operation and maintenance of the SBTL power plant for its estimated 120 expected lifespan – a total of 1,225 jobs.

Tidal Lagoon Swansea BayThe majority of this labour, or 92%, will be required for the power generation components, with the largest requirement within this being for the manufacture of turbine sets and sluice gates /stop logs.

Around two thirds of the labour demand, or 63% is for technical/skilled occupations, and the largest proportion of jobs, or 49%, is for people working in the manufacture of fabricated metal industry, with a 20% of jobs requiring people working in steel casting, and 11% in forging/stamping metals.

The report identifies potential shortages in Wales’ capability to meet the demands for steel casting, due to the lack of such companies operating in Wales.

It is estimated that, at present, Wales has the capability to provide around half, or 54%, of the manufacturing and assembly of the main components requirements.

However, the study notes that with sufficient investment to fill the gaps in Wales’ capability, most notably in securing the required machinery and facilities, the capacity in Wales could, in theory, be expanded to provide some 91% of activities.

The SBTL manufacturing study also calls for a strategic approach to up-skilling the existing workforce, and developing the required number of new entrants into the industry.

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