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Smart skills for a smart future

15 February, 2017

Smart Machines & Factories spoke to Brian Holliday, managing director - Digital Factory, Siemens UK & Ireland, who says the UK can play a major role in promoting the adoption of Industry 4.0 digital technology solutions which will underpin the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution and optimise productivity in UK manufacturing. This, in turn, will enable a high wage economy such as the UK to compete within a globalised manufacturing environment. But, realising the enormous potential of a digitised manufacturing future is also dependent on creating a talented workforce with the right digital skills.

The UK has a proud engineering and manufacturing heritage. But, meeting the specific challenges of an increasingly digitised manufacturing future requires a focus on how we can help the next generation develop the cutting-edge digital skills to help them not only achieve their potential, but also secure the path toward national scientific advancement for the benefit of all of society.

Brian Holliday, managing director - Digital Factory, Siemens UK & Ireland, explained that all the key indicators point to an acute shortage of young people entering engineering. There is also a tangible need to help equip them (and existing workforces) with the appropriate skills required to work with digital technology solutions. Such challenges can only be described as some of the biggest issues our education system has faced in a generation.

Holliday says the truth is the UK needs to double the number of engineering-related apprentices and graduates entering industry. He explains: “There is, in essence, a national skills deficit that threatens to undermine the country’s global competitiveness.

“If this gap is not tackled over the coming decade, many experts predict it could have devastating consequences for our overall industrial prospects.”

Figures from Engineering UK’s ‘State of Engineering’ report, starkly illuminate the problem. It points out that the UK will need 87,000 level 4+ engineers per year over the next 10 years just to meet industrial demand. While supply has grown over recent times, unfortunately we still only have 51,000 engineers coming on stream per annum.

The picture is similar for level 3 engineering-related apprenticeships, where we see just 23,500 per year, a figure that falls well short of the 69,000 annual demand.

To tackle this gap, says Holliday, all stakeholders - Government, policy makers, businesses and educational establishments - must continue to vigorously promote both the importance of engineering to the nation, and highlight the stimulating and rewarding careers that are possible within the sector.

He highlights that Both Engineering UK and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) have made tbis clear in terms of the specific importance engineering has for the economy to aid national prosperity generally.

Productivity

When it comes to optimising UK productivity, the engineering sector already plays a pivotal role. Holliday gives an example - in 2014, the engineering sector generated £455.6 billion GDP for the UK. By way of contrast, this is 68% more productive than the retail and wholesale sector.

He highlights that it is estimated that for every new job created in engineering and manufacturing, two more jobs are created elsewhere in the UK: “And, if engineering can meet the forecasted demand for new vacancies, it is predicted this will help generate an additional £27 billion GDP per year. This is the financial equivalent of constructing 1800 new secondary schools, or building 110 much needed new hospitals.”

The good news, he says, is that the picture on the ground is more optimistic than the figures suggest, with a huge shift in the perception of manufacturing and engineering apprenticeships over the last decade. It would appear that the problem is understood and that there is commitment from various sources to tackle the challenge head on: “The Government is engaged with the process and policy makers are trying to encourage a greater focus on the type of digital skills needed to ensure more young people both consider and follow engineering careers.”

Holliday commented that as a global engineering company which already employs 14,000 people in the UK, Siemens is determined to play its part too: “We are one of the top five engineering employers, and in the top 100 overall for employing graduates.

“We currently have over 500 apprentices in training, resulting in £28m of additional economic value from these apprenticeships, coupled with a £82k net lifetime benefit to each apprentice.”

He explains that we can see evidence that the partnerships, collaborations and concerted actions underway, are having a positive effect on the pipeline of people we need to deliver the skilled workforce that the UK requires to remain competitive:

“Siemens firmly believes that the answer to the skills deficit lies in education, inspiration and collaboration. One example is our partnership with the PTI, which is doing much to support mathematics and science. Our sponsorship has already allowed 1600 state secondary school teachers to benefit from the PTI programme and is inspiring more effective and rigorous teaching in maths and science.”

Digital skills

According to Tech North, the UK’s digital economy is expected to require an extra 760,000 digital workers between 2015 and 2020. Many of these digital jobs will be intrinsically linked to British industry, and manufacturing – not just the consumer related world of apps.

Holliday says that automation and AI are radically transforming the world of work and will be hugely disruptive in a way not seen since the last industrial revolution: “You can see it changing the way in which we order taxis, via Uber, or through the access to any song of your choice courtesy of Spotify. In manufacturing, digital application is being called the fourth industrial revolution and is leading to huge productivity gains in industry globally.” Yet, a committee of MPs earlier this year found:

• 22% of IT equipment in schools is ineffective

• Just 35% of computer science teachers had a relevant qualification

• Only 70% of the required number of computer science teachers have been recruited

• 90% of jobs require digital skills to some degree

• The skills gap costs the economy around £63bn a year in lost income

Holliday concludes by emphasising that we are on the cusp of something new and digital, and rapid changes in technology are radically changing our lives at home and at work: “This is why we must together work to find solutions to these challenges and call for much greater collaboration between technology companies and the education system, with vastly increased financial resources needed for digital training. We must push for our education system to have a thread of digital running through it from primary school right through to university.”

Inspiring the next generation

Siemens is helping to inspire the next generation of UK engineers partly through its Curiosity Project. The Curiosity Project is a long-term engagement programme aimed at broadening existing investment to bring science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to life in the UK. The project is underpinned by an extensive education programme providing free, stimulating and unique STEM-related resources to support STEM education. Siemens participate in science festivals across the UK and go into schools to help inspire children about the value of studying STEM.

The Curiosity Project runs alongside the Siemens education website, which provides resources for teachers, parents and young people. Each year the Curiosity Project inspires five million children to continue STEM education and creates £12m of direct social benefit. The company says from a business point of view, projects like these are crucial, because without inspiring young people there will be no engineering future in the UK.

While progress is being made in many areas, more still needs to be done to close the skills gap we face. The specific need for stimulated minds and fresh talent to run the smart digital factories of the future remains critical to improve the nation’s productivity performance, and with it drive growth, economic success and the creation of high value jobs going forward.

For further information please visit: www.siemens.com

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