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The biggest barrier that manufacturers face in carrying out digital transformations is a lack of skills, according to our Manufacturing Digital Transformation Report. But moves are afoot to remedy the situation.
Make UK, the manufacturer's organisation, has next-generations digital skills acquisition as a priority at its Birmingham Technology Hub.
To find out how this unique asset is serving the UK manufacturing sector, we spoke to Stephen Mitchell, Make UK’s director of apprentices and technical training.
Why did Make UK create this space?
There is an ongoing challenge to fill a skills gap. And at the moment it’s being exacerbated because there hasn’t been a lot of flexibility in the job market.
In 2012, Make UK built the training and technology centre to meet the needs of a rapidly growing manufacturing sector, to deliver future engineers through the Modern Apprenticeship programme as well as train existing staff.
We support all the basic principles of engineering but now have a greater focus on more modern techniques, from electrical systems to robotics, so important for developing engineers of the future.
It is these skilled roles that design, run and maintain manufacturing plant today and indeed in the future. During these current few months we have had to adapt to the evolving situation with COVID-19 whilst still supporting our apprentices.
We have rapidly set up online learning for our apprentices and continue to deliver to them.
How are you working with business to fill the digital transformation skills gap?
We have a section of the business that is focused on providing specific upskilling needs. We have the capability to do that in short, sharp bursts and we work with companies to meet their needs rather than just providing training programmes.
This allows existing employees to add to their extensive industry experience skills, for example in the robotics disciplines and understanding how data can be used when running automated plants.
How are you engaging with future generations to attract talent to the sector?
We are not going to change the world in isolation. But we have a very clear understanding of what needs to be done, and we hope others will learn from us and adapt. We have a long-term view of attracting people into our sector. It’s about changing perception.
That’s why our facility is clean and tidy, reflecting what a modern factory looks like. We promote it from a young school age. Last year we created our own STEM room, which is funky and colourful, and employ specialist STEM tutors to help deliver our message.
And we bring schools to us, because you can’t get young people engaged with just a talk in a classroom. It allows us to bring in concepts of future manufacturing around computer-aided engineering, 3D printing, robotics and automation.
What are the hub’s key specialisms from a technology and sub-sector point of view?
We target a particular group of roles within industry. Our core delivery is built around the Engineering Technician Standard, covering machinists and maintenance, industrial and design engineering in mechanical and electrical disciplines.
We cover the whole spectrum of anything related to a manufacturing environment. We are very automotive-oriented, but that covers a host of industries. We have apprentices from brick-manufacturing companies, aerospace and even utilities like water supply.
One of the things that spans all those areas is being productive. The other area where we are predominant is in metrology, or the measurement of things.
And we have set up an apprentice programme on measurement from the National Physical Laboratory, very much in response to demand from industry.
What more can Government and businesses be doing to help alleviate skills issues?
You’re not going to satisfy a skills gap unless you consciously think of the skills you need in five or ten years and embed those threads of thinking in today’s teaching programs.
To do that, you have to speculate, and I don’t think we do that enough - for example, with apprenticeships having digital transformation elements mandated into their programs of delivery.