Paul Dancer, Learning & Skills Manager for Engineering Apprenticeships at NWSLC talks about the new wave of qualifications set to get the STEM sector back on track following the pandemic.
“What an incredible year 2020 has been for engineering and manufacturing. The sector has risen to unprecedented challenges as part of the UK’s response to the coronavirus crisis and been at the forefront of helping to combat COVID-19. Brands like Dyson pivoted their skills at the peak of the crisis to help produce ventilators for the NHS. Jaguar Land Rover turned production over to visors and Burberry started to make PPE for nurses. Companies like Röhm in Germany significantly ramped up production of Plexiglass to create partitions for use in retail point of sale.
“As soon as a potentially viable vaccine was identified by Oxford University, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca leapt into action, ramping up its production capacity to produce millions of doses in the hope that trials would prove successful.
“Many of the significant responses to the crisis happened within the STEM sector and I think that now, more than ever, people are aware of the central role that science, technology, engineering and maths plays within the manufacturing sector in the UK. The engineering sector accounts for 23 per cent of total UK turnover, and 27 per cent of all registered enterprises in the UK were engineering-based in 2018.
“The sector looks likely to be strengthened against the coming recession by large scale government investment in infrastructure projects like those outlined by the Prime Minister in the ‘New Deal’ where support includes a £1bn investment in electric vehicle technologies that could see the rise of ‘gigafactories’ mass producing batteries and other electric vehicle components. Funding is also earmarked for projects to reduce carbon emissions including for a super-fast charging network, Plug-In grant schemes, and Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology that extracts carbon from the air.
“All of these opportunities call for highly skilled individuals and, with productivity notoriously sluggish in the UK, businesses continue to be concerned about skills shortages with 61 per cent in the engineering sector expressing concern about hard to fill vacancies. According to Engineering UK, we need over 200,000 individuals to gain engineering qualifications at Level 3 or above by 2024 to meet the shortfall.
“At NWSLC, we are making our contribution to the ‘strengthening the educational pipeline’ by introducing two brand new Level 4 apprenticeships aimed at engineering manufacturing and propulsion technicians. These new standards, that include a Higher National Certificate (HNC), have been developed in partnership with industry and are recognised by organisations including IET and IMechE. They are based on a blend of knowledge, skills and behaviours that will bring professionalism and expertise to the workforce.
The apprenticeships cover all aspects of these specialised technician roles from data collection and analysis, project management, and problem solving, to efficiency techniques including Six Sigma, Kaizen and Poka-Yoke, and are designed to enhance practical abilities in production methods and the use of computer-based software.
“At a time when organisations need to be as lean and efficient as possible and so may not be able to take on new employees, it is all the more important that they invest in their existing staff and identify the candidates that they believe have the potential to grow and develop with the structured support of an apprenticeship. There is funding available for these qualifications through the Apprenticeship Levy or Levy Transfer Scheme and employers need only commit to permitting time away from the workplace to enable staff to secure their qualifications.
“Off the job training will be delivered at our specialist campus for the automotive sector, the MIRA Technology Institute. At NWSLC, we are ready to support businesses within the sector to get their employees signed up and on track and put themselves in the best position to take advantage of the amazing opportunities now emerging from the devastating impact of the pandemic.”