Creating skills for advanced technologies

Developing new technologies is only of any good if there is a generation of engineers coming through that know how to make the most of them. Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, said: “Last year Birmingham alone created more jobs than the whole of France. But all these companies that keep growing need skills – we recognise that in Government. We need advanced manufacturing. It is something as a country we are very good at, and we’re getting better at, but we need that next generation to come through.”

He was speaking at the opening, at the end of October, of the Lloyds Bank Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre (AMTC) in Coventry, an additional string to the bow of the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), which is in turn part of the successful High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

The Centre intends to contribute to the training of around 1000 people in its first ten years, which will include apprentices, engineers on conversion courses, graduates and students studying short courses. There will be an annual intake of around 50 for the full-time, three-year apprenticeship programme offered by the Centre.

Ken Young, technology director at the MTC, commented: “There is a skills shortage, but for us it is even worse than that. We are developing technologies that are the next generation for what we will do in manufacturing. Some of the things we are developing here like Net Shape and Additive Manufacturing, Industry 4.0, infomatics, the use of IT in manufacturing and intelligent automation - you can’t go anywhere and get those skills. They just do not exist. So while we are developing those technologies, in parallel to that we realised we needed to have a centre over here developing the apprentices and also ultimately the graduates and post graduates that can get out in industry and make this stuff happen and start to make money out of it for the UK.”

Changing the emphasis for the apprenticeship programme was therefore a priority for the AMTC. “The wrong thing to do would have been to do more of the same – churning out manufacturing apprentices,” said paul Rowlett, managing director of the Lloyds Bank AMTC. “We are in a privileged position as we have 90 members companies who know what technologies they are going to be using, who know what they want from the AMTC.”

One of those companies is Bosch Rexroth who has fitted out one of the labs in the Centre with its automation equipment. The company’s Any Minturn said: “A lot of our younger engineers need practical experience. The design engineers – they need practical experience to know how things go together and for design for manufacture, for instance. All our research engineers have the necessary design skills to take products from cradle to grave, so the idea is that these guys get some of those skills here and can continue in the future.”

This exposure to manufacturing technology therefore is helping create more accomplished engineers. “I think it is vital,” continued Minturn. “We have a lot of good people in our design department in their early 20s but they have very little practical experience. Being at the rough end, knowing how someone will use that part, is vital. The guys here are getting some of the design skills and the manufacturing skills – you can’t have one without the other.”

Tim Hinton, managing director of Mid Markets and SME Banking at Lloyds Banking Group, said: “The UK economy is growing but if the shortage in manufacturing skills is not addressed, it will seriously hamper our future capabilities and poses a significant risk to our competitiveness and overseas trade.

“Our £5 million contribution to help finance more apprenticeships at these impressive facilities is just one of the ways that we are supporting the manufacturing sector and closing the skills gap. We are confident that the MTC and AMTC will develop the next generation of world-leading engineers and help reassert the UK’s engineering prowess.”