Ian McMahon, Head of Aerospace, Defence & Marine for Scottish Enterprise looks at how traditional Clyde shipbuilding skills and reputation for engineering excellence remain a vital cornerstone of the 21st century UK defence industry.
There remains a stubborn belief - everywhere except in Glasgow
itself and in shipbuilding industry and defence industry circles,
both of which know better - that Scottish shipbuilding is
dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact,
since 2001 the Clyde yards, operated by BAE Systems, have seen a
massive resurgence and now employ almost 4000 people.
It is also a myth that shipbuilding is all about
'metal-bashing'. While traditional trade and craft skills
continue to underpin the industry, they represent only half of the
dedicated and highly skilled workforce. That workforce is now
engaged in all aspects of designing, engineering, building and
fitting-out ships that are genuinely world-leading in terms of
their engineering sophistication and capabilities.
Sophisticated and complex as the hulls designs are, the steel
content is the minority of the value of a warship - now the primary
product of the modern Clyde shipbuilding industry. The main
business is one of complex systems integration - and the range of
skills reflects this, as do average salary levels which are well
above the norm for manufacturing.
The Clyde's Shipyards
Quite literally dependent on the River Clyde for their very
existence, BAE Systems Surface Ships' upper Clyde yards are the
very epitome of a Clyde Waterfront development.
The two shipyards at Scotstoun and Govan operate jointly to create
the most capable warships in the world - a genuine testament to the
skills and expertise of their builders. Together the yards
represent the biggest shipbuilding facility in the UK and the
largest defence manufacturing site in Scotland, almost twice the
size of the next largest location.
The Govan facility is the centre of the manufacturing process,
employing modern technologies such as plasma beam steel cutting and
modular construction techniques in its giant assembly halls.
Although already substantially fitted out in Govan with engines,
drive trains and complex cabling and electronics, following
the launch, ships are moved to Scotstoun where further
systems such as weapons, communications and radars are installed
and tested and the hull and propulsion systems completed.
Scotstoun is also home to the design, engineering, project
management and drawing offices that oversee current orders and
develop new ships aimed at the UK market and the growing export
In recent years the Clyde yards have built Bay Class
assault/logistics support ships and fleet tankers the Royal Fleet
Auxiliary and warships for Brunei. But the primary
contract has been for six Type 45 air defence destroyers for the Royal
Navy, the most capable vessels of their type in the world.
Two are now in RN service and the full order will be completed by
2015. Simultaneously the Clyde has also built two offshore
patrol vessels for Trinidad & Tobago.
But the big order - and one that will keep the yards busy for the
next few years - are the massive stern blocks of Britain's two new
Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers,
the largest ships ever order by the RN. The Clyde modules are
equivalent in scope and scale to ships in their own right.
They will be transferred to Rosyth for final assembly and float out
because of its massive dry-dock capacity.
BAE Systems is also continuing to plan for the RN's future fleet
needs beyond the carriers and is now engaged in designing the new
generation future surface combatant (Type 26) vessels, as well as
taking an interest in the growing opportunities the renewable
energy sector, for example an R&D project with
Further down the Clyde in Port Glasgow, Ferguson Shipbuilders,
continues to provide diverse engineering capability, but has also
moved into the offshore renewables sector. It retains
capacity and skills to undertake a range of shipbuilding and
The large Inchgreen dry-dock in Greenock also continues to play a
role, having most recently been the location for the construction
of the new floating jetty that will serve the RN's Astute Class
nuclear submarine fleet, which will be stationed at Faslane.
Skills are at the heart of the industry. Recognising the
need to address the skills losses of the late 20th century, BAE
Systems set about an ambitious recruitment and training programme
from 2002. Who would have believed that it would be a Clyde
shipbuilding company that would become Scotland's largest private
sector employer of apprentices, with well over 800 joining its
scheme since that time?
That skills focus is also assisted by the Scottish Enterprise
'Scottish Marine Technologies Training Project' (SMTTP). This
multi-year programme is designed to attract people to the industry
at all levels, not only to meet the immediate needs of
shipbuilding, but also to help put in place the engineering skills
that will in turn help to create a long term workforce to serve
Scotland's wider industrial needs, especially as offshore and
marine renewable energy starts to take off. SE commenced a
three year campaign in 2009 under the 'Future is Ship Shape' banner and will
be working with Skills Development Scotland as the skills agency
accelerates its activity in engineering.
SMTTP also saw support of the development of the UK's only Higher
National Certificate in Shipbuilding. Comprising a range of
transferable skills that are clustered into a recognised award, the
existence of such a specific qualification sends out an important
signal about Scotland's intention to remain at the forefront of the
UK shipbuilding industry.
In a 2009 study by the prestigious Fraser of Allander Institute,
BAE Systems Clyde yards were shown to have a significant impact on
the local and national economy. Based on 2008 figures, the
Clyde yards were shown to support a total of over 8000 jobs in the
UK, of which over 5700 were in Scotland. The Glasgow yards
supported a total of £225.7 million worth of wages across the UK,
of which £156.4 million were in Scotland. In terms of Gross
Value Added (GVA) to the economy, BAE Systems on the Clyde created
a total of £324.0 million worth of GVA across the UK, with some
£198.6 million of this in Scotland.
Support for the Industry
Recognising the value of the shipyards as creators of jobs and
wealth, in recent years the public sector has provided assistance
for a range of Regional Selective Assistance, business
infrastructure, Modern Apprenticeships and other training
support. These cover areas such as facilities and
productivity improvement, management skills, upgraded design
capability, land remediation and waterfront infrastructure
improvement. In addition to the direct creation and
safeguarding of jobs, all support is also geared towards ensuring
that the yards have the capacity, facilities and skills they need
to able to bid for future shipbuilding work after the completion of
the aircraft carrier programme.
Even in the 21st century, 'Clyde-built' still has a very
positive reputation in the shipbuilding industry worldwide - and
the industry and public sector partners are working hard to ensure
that reputation grows.
5th August 2010
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