Skills shortage hits sheet metal industry

Aberdeen is well-known for its granite buildings, fishing and, of course, its presence within the international oil and gas industry. For this reason, you would be forgiven for overlooking some of the more traditional industries.

Aberdeen-based James Aiken Engineering Solutions is one company that can sympathise with this as they notice a growing skills gap particularly within the sheet metal industry, part of the wider light fabrication scope of work. Despite taking on apprentices each year to address this, there has been a dip in the number of people keen to specialise within this area. 

However, there is no escaping sheet metal work and what it can achieve, surrounding us much of the time in everyday life – the thin versatile flat pieces of metal are cut and bent into position at James Aiken’s workshop to create various objects such as kitchen worktops, dive chamber fittings and furnishings. Working with several different materials, including brass, steel and aluminium, there is often great scope for those with artistic flair to shape the end result.

The business has also launched an architectural blacksmith division, directly in line with the demand for more bespoke light fabrication, including the likes of stainless steel and glass balustrades.

Neil Jolly, who has been at James Aiken for more than 30 years and has worked his way up to director level, can see that this industry is still thriving, with contracts coming in from a variety of sources, including oil and gas operators and service companies, shipping vessels and private contractors. However, finding up-and-coming workers to actually carry out the diverse work is the difficulty.

He commented: “We are incredibly lucky to have such a thriving industry in the north-east; however, not many youngsters will look to the sheet metal industry as a career path with other avenues receiving far more attention, for example oil and gas and engineering.

“Working with sheet metal is a highly skilled task and it can take several years to become fully confident in the field. We work closely with Aberdeen College and also the government’s training scheme, provided locally through training specialists, ITCA Limited, in order to engage with emerging talent. There, they receive training on welding, light fabrication, health and safety and tool handling – all vital components to sheet metal working.

“The skills they receive there are then complemented by the practical know-how gained from spending time within our workshop. With nearly a third of our staff having been with us for the last 30 years, there is a great deal of technical know-how they can tap into.”

James Aiken Engineering Solutions has a 30 strong team who are each passionate about delivering metal fabrication and engineering that is fit for purpose. Their workshop benefits from the most up-to-date CNC machinery, ensuring the best project management and customer service is possible. Current clients are across various sectors, including oil and gas, health board, food and catering and construction.