The head of the Aluminium Federation has warned the science and engineering sector faces a manpower shortfall unless current trends are reversed.

Henry Dickinson told guests at the ALFED dinner at the Merchant Taylor’s Hall, London ambitious industry targets would not be met unless recruitment across the sector was increased.

He said: “We are not training enough talented young men and women in science and engineering disciplines. Where we have perhaps 10,000 undergraduate scientists and engineers in universities, the Chinese have 600,000. This is not solely the result of their larger population but more of the focus they place on productive disciplines.

“Without an adequate base of intelligent, trained and resourceful young people entering manufacturing and research it becomes increasingly difficult to improve products and processes at a rate at least the equal of overseas competitors. It is a falsehood to believe we can let go of volume manufacturing businesses and achieve full employment through high-end design and technology companies: we are not training enough people in the right disciplines.”

The president said there was not enough money invested in manufacturing assets or R&D.

He said: “Our industry is global. Most members act on a global stage, either exporting or operating in markets where imports take a substantial share. It is essential for our survival that we are internationally competitive, that we have the latest and most productive equipment with best-in-class unit costs of production. Of course with notable exceptions British manufacturers are not investing at an equivalent rate to that of our major international competitors, because the investment climate is not sufficiently conducive, the tax regime is inadequately supportive, the legislative regime sometimes downright hostile and the domestic market environment too uncertain.

“We applaud the R&D tax credit system, whereby even loss making companies can invest in R&D and get hard cash back from the Treasury. Surely we can conceive of a similar system which encourages investment in long life manufacturing assets but does not contravene EU state-aid rules. It is frustrating to me and some of our multi-national members that Italians and Greeks can secure substantial grants for new investments, but we cannot. Rather than complain they must be breaking the rules, I want our government and companies to be equally creative in ensuring these investments are made and that they happen here.”

Mr Dickinson said the pressures on the aluminium industry from areas such as the cost of power were considerable but he was confident that the industry had the sufficient strength to weather the curent storm.

“The aluminium industry is a resilient industry and even though these are hard times for manufacturers, I am confident that aluminium will continue to be demanded by designers and specifiers in increasing quantities for its high strength-to-weight ratio, corrosion resistance, formability, biological barrier and multiple other properties, and its infinite recyclability,” he said.

“Ours is a material of the future and I hope our policy makers will ensure that a part of that future lies in having a strong and vibrant aluminium manufacturing industry within Europe.”