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. 


Friday, 17 March 2017 00:00

Some priorities for the Industrial Strategy

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This week, we’ve been focusing on the Industrial Strategy. This is good timing, given that it’s also British Science Week – the UK is genuinely world-leading in scientific research and development, and protecting and enhancing our research base is going to be central to ensuring we enjoy a prosperous future. So the £4.7bn extra earmarked in the Green Paper for UK science to 2020-1 is very welcome.

I was pleased to be given the opportunity to speak at a panel event on the Industrial Strategy hosted at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers yesterday. As I have said repeatedly, and as I said yesterday, we cannot hope to have a working Industrial Strategy without a strong skills strategy also being developed to underpin it. Given the continuing skills shortages we’re facing in engineering, the development of a strategy which effectively links education and training provision with actual employer need is timely – but with half of our sector’s workforce set to retire in the next decade, we really do need to get this right first time.

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 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!

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