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, 01 February 2018 00:00

The new consultation on basic skills needs a strong response from engineering

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The future of engineering is digital. As the Made Smarter Review published last year makes clear, UK engineering is going to need a major influx of digital skills to meet employer need in the coming year. The Review offers a roadmap to a million workers in industry being upskilled so that digital technologies can be effectively embedded, making UK engineering a more productive and more prosperous sector.

Cyber security, AI and machine learning, the IoT and data analytics, additive manufacturing, and robotics and automation are identified in the course of the review as being areas of high priority. (On the latter, Semta’s sister organisation EAL has just launched the UK’s first Level 3 robotics and automation qualification.)

But how can we upskill workers to have good knowledge of these new technologies if they don’t even have a grasp of basic digital skills? At present, up to 12.6 million adults in the UK lack these skills and an estimated 5.6 million have never even used the internet. Given the ageing profile of the UK engineering sector, it is quite likely that some of those people are working in our sector. With jobs at all skill levels set to become more digitalised, it’s crucial that we ensure that workers at all skill levels are equipped with the ability to adapt as their jobs adapt to new technologies.

The Made Smarter Review proposes a digital platform for learning to use new technologies in engineering, but this will be useless to workers who are unable even to access it. In eliminating barriers to access for smaller employers and for those living in remote areas, we do not want to in their place erect new barriers for those lacking the ability to use the internet.

This is why a new consultation on basic digital skills, led by the Tech Partnership and Lloyds Banking Group, is so timely. The consultation will help to shape the content that is taught through the basic digital skills training to which all UK adults lacking relevant qualifications will be entitled. There won’t be any sector left untouched by digitalisation, but we in engineering have a particular stake in this given that ageing workforce.

2018 is the Year of Engineering, and it’s right that we focus on how we’re going to enthuse young people about our sector and create a stronger talent pipeline for the future. But in doing that, we can’t afford to lose our focus on those already in engineering. Although half of the sector’s workforce will reach retirement age by the middle of the 2020s, this means that half of the workforce will still be here. We need to help those in the current workforce, where they need it, to bring their digital skill levels up to the standard of those who are coming into the sector – who will be digital natives, brought up with digital technologies playing an integral part in their lives.

I would urge engineering sector employers to take a look at the consultation, and to think about where your employees lack digital skills and which skills it would be useful for them to be equipped with. The future – your future – is digital, so let’s take this opportunity to shape it.

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