Industry Angles: Episode 3 - Rethinking digital skills

Host Jonty Bloom is joined by expert guests from Make UK, BMW Group UK, Aston University and Hone-All Precision Ltd to discuss digital skills. With the acceleration of digital transformation, how is industry tackling the urgent digital skills agenda? We explore:

  • What digital transformation is and how it is playing out
  • How industry and higher education are delivering digital skills through apprentices and upskilling
  • The impact of COVID-19
  • Challenges industry are facing
  • The support needed to deliver the right digital skills.

Our guests: 

Darren Comber

Tim Thomas, Employment and skills policy director at Make UK.

Tim is responsible for Make UK’s engagement with Government and Parliament in all areas of employment and skills policy in the UK and the EU.

Dr Simon Farrall, Head of apprentice and associate training at BMW Group UK.

Simon is also currently the Chair of the Automotive Council Skills Working Group.

Dr Keith Schofield, Associate Dean: Future Students and Product Development at Aston University.

Keith is responsible for the growth of apprenticeship programmes within Aston Business School.

Andrea Rodney, Director at Hone-All Precision Ltd.

Andrea has been active in influencing the Government’s focus towards long term manufacturing success, through the EEDA Manufacturing Panel, the Automotive Academy and the NSAM / SEMTA skills Council.

Podcast Summary and additional resources

What is digital transformation in industry and how will it play out?

The panellists agreed that digital transformation is undoubtedly the future of manufacturing but with each business defining digital transformation differently, it ultimately means it will play out differently for each business. They discuss their own experiences of digital transformation from the automation of processes, utilising data more intelligently, benefits for supply chain connectivity and embedding new technologies such as collaborative robots and additive manufacturing.

Read our Manufacturing Digital Transformation Report which tracks manufacturers’ investment in and attitudes towards digitalisation and industry 4.0 technology.

In our Emerging Tech eBook we look at the role of emerging technologies, providing useful and unique insights into the future of the technological developments.

Read our article by Nigel Morris from BDO’s Technology Advisory Services team which investigates how robotic process automation (RPA) can improve resilience and productivity.

Read our article which looks at four capital allowances schemes you should consider when investing in digital.

The government encourages and incentivises innovation and R&D through a number of channels. Read about the Research and Development tax credits and grants available for businesses involved in digitalisation projects.

Furlough, a missed training opportunity?

With high numbers of staff across all industries on furlough, could this have been an opportunity to train and upskill staff rather than them being at home? We asked whether this has been a missed opportunity.

The panellists agree that there has been a missed opportunity and with a bit more flexibility from the Government, businesses could have used this time to train and upskill staff. However, with the introduction of furlough at a weeks’ notice, it was highlighted that it would have been an incredibly huge task to create training programmes with such short notice.

Visit our CJRS hub to review BDO’s two CRJS tools to support your business with calculations and understand your exposure to risk.

Is it time to stop or slow spending?

Simon shares that whenever you reach times of economic hardship and training budgets come under a lot of focus. However, training investments are not short term activities and the business challenges still remain. The UK is a relatively high wage economy and is about to leave the European Union. It is important to find levers that continue to make us competitive and investment in the digital capabilities of our workforce is probably the single largest lever that we have that enables us to drive that change.

Investment needed in the further education sector

The panel discuss the role and importance of further education (FE) and higher education (HE).

Simon thinks one of the things that the German economy does really well is it invests very effectively in the skills base of the entire workforce. There's an enormous part of the workforce whose competencies are best addressed in the further education sector. And that sector has sadly been under invested in for decades now in the UK.

Tim hopes we will reach a point where there is greater parity between HE and FE and people will therefore see FE as a viable route forward that is competition with HE and want to actually gain vocational skills through FE training. And that essentially is where we would like to be as an economy as a nation.

Keith adds there have been some really successful outcomes for the university in installing degrees into apprenticeship programmes resulting in apprentices being able to go back to their workplace and enact change.

Andrea explains how apprenticeships and training in colleges local to their business aren’t delivering the right skills. The challenge is how do you get colleges to satisfy everyone’s needs. Andrea feels there needs to be a change in the way it is funded. It should be same way as is in Germany - part funded by the business and part funded by the college.

Collaboration and partnership is key

Simon shares that BMW use external providers for their apprenticeship training and have had great results working with these providers on their onsite training facilities. Where they don’t have onsite facilities they will use local providers instead.

Keith adds that by involving the employers more, it's led to better working relationships with them and they hope a better quality of training that is being delivered for them.

Digital skills are not a nice to have but a must have – what more support is needed?

The panel discuss that while there is a lot of very good training going on there is also much that can be improved. Suggestions include increasing funding for training, additional tax breaks for SMEs training people, providing more further education and ongoing training to the existing workforce, building up training capacity across the country and economy perhaps with more capital funding, giving employers more flexibility to provide the training that is needed.

Finally, Tim ends the podcast on a positive note, that there's some fantastic training going on in the manufacturing sector. There are committed employers, a great workforce, a competitive sector and access to global markets. What needs to be done is maximise the opportunity going forward. And part of that is making sure that we've got the best, globally productive and globally competitive workforce that we can possibly have. So let's start from there.

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