As we approach the festive season it seems that after months of ‘wait and see’ for business, the first half of 2017 will likely see the UK government’s much-anticipated triggering of Article 50, and the start of the process for leaving the European Union. However, the continuing uncertainty over how Brexit will actually be implemented – ‘hard’, ‘soft’ or something in between – is a concern for the UK construction industry, our own sector, and many ECA members I’ve spoken to up and down the country.
Nonetheless, whatever the final outcome, we have to look beyond Brexit and any potential issues it may bring. My feeling from talking to those in the sector is that there is a really positive attitude prevailing in our sector that it will ultimately be OK. We have to be resilient. As an industry, we must keep on doing what we do well. We remain one of the world’s leading engineering nations, working to the highest standards in the world, and we shouldn’t forget this.
It is important, too, that we continue to address the needs of our sector as we prepare for the future – and to maintain the progress we have made over recent years. That means tackling fundamental issues such as the electrical skills shortage, training, apprenticeships, pre-qualification and fair payment – and, as the sector’s leading trade association, the ECA continues to work with government and others in these key areas. In some ways, our presence within Europe will remain unchanged. The UK will maintain a significant role in the development of European and worldwide electrical standards, through the AIE and the national and international standards bodies. British standards are the envy of much of the world, and we will remain an important voice on the global stage.
Investing in the future
One major political issue affecting our sector has, thankfully, been resolved since my last column. The decision to give the goahead to the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station – following a lengthy government review of the scheme – is a welcome development for the electrical engineering and construction sector. Meanwhile, another large-scale energy project in my own region – the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon – is (at the time of writing) still to be finalised, but has the potential for massive investment in renewable energy technology and infrastructure in the coming years. I was interviewed recently about the project for The New York Times, indicating how interest in this highly innovative scheme is spreading.
Raising our profile
One of the key themes for my presidential year is ‘raising the profile of the sector’, and while there are some great examples of coming together to boost our image and identify how we can work better together, more can be done. I’m speaking to Swansea University, for example, about the possibility of introducing graduation ceremony-type events for M&E apprentices.
Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish readers a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. We’re looking forward to a very positive 2017, continuing to make a real difference and to raise our profile, as we strive for a successful future for our sector.