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Refining our approach to skills development

Katherine Bennett CBE, CEO

Katherine Bennett CBE, CEO | High Value Manufacturing Catapult

4 min read Partner content

Technology is changing the face of manufacturing industry in the UK. It’s happening now and it’s happening fast.

That means that the 2.6 million people employed in this sector in the UK, plus countless others looking to begin their careers, need to keep up to speed with these developments.

Manufacturing’s ability to surge forward is not surprising – it accounts for 41% of all business research, development and innovation in the UK. Maintaining that requires continuous investment, not only in technology but also in people.

Maximising the opportunities of new technology requires people with skills, vision and ambition. Leaders who can think creatively around a problem and use the power of innovation to arrive at solutions.

The High Value Manufacturing Catapult is leading this through our seven world-class centres. We bring science to some of the major technical challenges facing industry, whether that be the development of advanced materials or using artificial intelligence to streamline design or manufacturing processes.

But we recognise that this cannot happen in isolation, so we also have a range of activities which are transforming the way we approach skills for our current and future workforce.

Foresighting will be crucial for ensuring skills keep pace with technology development.

Take, for example, the rise of electric vehicles (EVs). Just a decade ago, EVs were very much in the early stages of adoption but, recognising the likelihood of growth, the skills for EV technicians were made a part of the curriculum.

Fast forward to today, and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) state there are 1.7 million EVs and around 700,000 plug-in hybrid vehicles on UK roads. Mechanical technicians who are experienced in servicing combustion engines have been able to smoothly transition to servicing them.

However, had we waited for EV take-up to spike before writing content for battery skills training, we would have been entirely unprepared. It is that foresight that helps technology flourish and can easily be adapted and applied to other sectors.

Understanding the possible trajectory of technology and its impact on required skills must be at the heart of the UK’s approach to skills development.

Through the Workforce Foresighting Hub, the Catapult Network and Innovate UK are already identifying the most important skills of the future. It brings together industry, technologists, policymakers and educators to help identify and shape future occupations, skills profiles and the educational provision required to develop them.

This is as much about transforming our current workforce as it is about preparing a pipeline of new entrants. A significant proportion of today’s workforce will still be of working age in ten years’ time, but current technology will move on rapidly during this period. It is important we get ahead of that change.

EVs have shown us why this is important. Similar opportunities now exist in key growing energy sectors, like hydrogen, offshore wind and nuclear.

While it has been suggested that net zero could hamper our manufacturing industry, adopting more clean energy solutions will make us more productive, more sustainable and, done right, more prosperous for the future. The UK must develop the skills required to take advantage of the opportunities which the low-carbon transition provides.

Previous approaches to skills development have not always had the desired impact. Some great initiatives have emerged but have operated in isolation which has reduced their effectiveness. Collaborative action can remove some of the fragmentation and gap filling and give employers, skills providers and the workforce confidence to embrace change with the right framework in place.

This is where the Catapult Network makes its impact. The High Value Manufacturing Catapult has around 1,700 apprentices across its seven centres, each working at the cutting edge of innovation from the start of their careers. Similarly, the Satellite Applications Catapult’s spin out programme has provided more than 450 work experience placements in the space sector over the past ten years and the Energy Systems Catapult has just launched its first ever graduate programme.

Up-skilling and workforce development must be a continuous process  to meet the needs of industry and to anchor the benefits of innovation in the UK rather than moving to other nations. This will result in good jobs, resilient supply chains and wealth creation across all parts of the UK.

The High Value Manufacturing Catapult is future proofing careers in engineering and manufacturing by supporting work readiness in apprentices and by promoting and supporting learning throughout all stages of career development.

We have a duty to pass forward something that has increased in value – using the skills the current generation has been given to pass on, as a basis for the next generation.

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