Semta's Chief Executive Ann Watson shares her views on the latest news, policy, issues and events of interest to the engineering and advanced manufacturing sector. 


Thursday, 28 January 2016 00:00

In defence of the UK skills system

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Martin Hottass SiemensGuest blog by Semta board member, Martin Hottass, Siemens

As a relatively recent addition to the Semta board, I'm delighted to have this opportunity to introduce myself and talk a bit about the current engineering skills landscape. Semta's aims and aspirations are very close to my heart and I'm pleased to be in a position to help support and steer the organisation forward.

I've held a range of learning and development positions over the years and with Siemens, have been lucky enough to travel the world. Seeing other vocational education systems in action is fascinating. While this has inevitably led to comparisons with the UK, I'm inclined to think these comparisons are unhelpful. I've always been particularly vexed by the assertion that we should be emulating the German model. I have sound reasons for this opinion, but should perhaps explain my skills credentials first.


I've been with Siemens since 2006 where I've held a number of senior learning and development roles. There are three different aspects to my current position. As General Manager of Siemens Professional Education I am responsible for the learning journey of our 500 UK-based Siemens apprentices and 70 apprentices from our supply chain and strategic partners. I also have responsibility for UK skills, designing new training programmes to meet evolving skills needs, and work with a variety of government bodies to shape the skills landscape in England and Scotland.

There's never been a more exciting time to be involved in skills, which are driving the UK's reindustrialisation. As a board member for Energy and Utility Skills and the National Training Academies for Railways, it's rewarding to help steer sector skills and qualifications. I'm very happy to have added Semta to my board commitments, joining such a prestigious group of industrialists and an organisation with such a rich history.

Semta has not had an easy time over the last Parliament. Making the transition from government funded Sector Skills Council to self-funding charitable organisation has not been without its challenges. But Semta has accomplished this admirably. It has a strong strategy in place to develop and secure its role as the 'go to' organisation for engineering skills excellence, to be the guardian of engineering qualifications and the voice of sector employers. With the fragmented and constantly evolving skills landscape, Semta's role has never been more critical.

In this state of constant flux, some may look enviously at the German model. They may crave the stability of a system, which has barely changed in the last century. There are certainly aspects to applaud. The focus on vocational education has resulted in apprenticeships being assimilated into the cultural fabric of German society, where a vocational path is seen as a highly respected route to career success.

But to hold up the German system as some kind of skills utopia is unfair and misleading. It's true that the UK system undergoes frequent and, sometimes unwanted, change. But it is also highly adaptable – adaptable to the needs of employers. Assessment of competence, for example, in Germany has not moved with the times, ability is assessed via two exams, rather than ongoing competence based assessment.

Ultimately, we should focus on engineering the skills that meet the UK's needs, be forward-looking and embrace the change that supports our reindustrialisation and drives our economic prosperity. I believe this is where Semta can really add value and I look forward to playing my part in this.

Read 2479 times Last modified on Tuesday, 12 April 2016 09:43