So what does a skills strategy need to be successful? As I outlined yesterday, I think there are four key strands, which I will outline in turn.
A long term vision
It is ironic that responsibility for further education and skills has flipped from the Department for Business back to the Department for Education (DfE) just at the point when the government is planning to develop an Industrial Strategy. The government needs to ensure that the Industrial Strategy is embedded in the priorities of every single department – and the Department for Education must be a top priority. If people in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are not in sync with colleagues at the DfE, the schools and training system simply won’t be equipping young people with the right skills to make good on the priorities identified in the Industrial Strategy.
A positive impact on the economy
In poor productivity, the government has identified a key drag on UK economic growth and prosperity. This means that boosting our technical skills is critical – engineering is one of the most productive sectors in the UK economy, producing 9% of turnover and 11% of gross value added (GVA) from just 6% of the workforce. Having identified its priority sectors for growth, the government must ensure that every part of the education system, academic and vocational alike, points young people towards the parts of the economy where the jobs are expected to be in future.
Appreciation of and responsiveness to the needs of employers
New technologies – especially those emerging through the nascent Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Industry 4.0) – will be a key driver of the productivity boost the government wants to bring about through its Industrial Strategy. 59% of employers in manufacturing recognise the potential impact of Industry 4.0, yet just 8% have a significant understanding of what it actually means. The government therefore has a crucial role to play in helping employers to understand the potential impacts of new and disruptive technologies on their businesses.
The right infrastructure
The government is developing a new framework around which a stronger technical skills base will be built. Fifteen new technical routes are being introduced, and Institutes of Technology (IoT) are set to be developed to deliver them. There will be £170m available to support the development of IoTs – compare that with the up to £320m available to develop new grammar schools – and £500m a year to support the delivery of the technical routes when they’ve all been developed – compare that with the £80bn a year total education budget. While capital investment in FE is good, Industry 4.0 means we also need teachers, assessors and lecturers who are competent in using and explaining the new technologies students will be using at work.
Those are my thoughts – but I and Semta would really welcome any ideas colleagues from across advanced manufacturing and engineering might have which will support the development of a world-class skills system to underpin the Industrial Strategy. Please do feel free to engage with us on social media (@SemtaSkills on Twitter, and we have Facebook and LinkedIn profiles too) and do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org too. Together, we can give the government the information and wisdom it needs to develop a Strategy which really does work for UK engineering and manufacturing. Thank you!