Justine Fosh – Skilling up

Posted on 7 Oct 2009 by The Manufacturer

New chair of the National Skills Academy Strategic Network introduces the manufacturing skills sphere

The manufacturing industry has come a long way since the days when a downturn in the economy led to a wholesale cull of jobs, training budgets and other employee benefits as a means of cutting costs.

Nowadays, most employers recognise that a longer-sighted view is needed. One philosophy gaining widespread support argues that recession is actually a time to increase investment in staff skills, as the increased competition caused by tighter trading conditions requires sharper, smarter, more efficient ways of working.

The problem, many in the industry tell me, is finding affordable, effective training which can be trusted to have a real impact on business. For many, the skills and training system is a confusing labyrinth which they have no time to navigate.

The National Skills Academy network is industry’s solution. It offers employers a single point of contact for information on and access to the very best training available in their sector. It operates via a series of independent, employer-led Skills Academies dedicated to delivering world class training to a specific industry. Each Skills Academy is itself a network of accredited training providers specialising in specific disciplines. Employer boards oversee and give strategic leadership to each organisation, ensuring industry’s needs are met. Sector steering groups see employers work directly with providers to identify and address skills needs, for example by developing bespoke training courses and qualifications.

The manufacturing industry is well served by the National Skills Academy network. Out of the 11 Skills Academies in operation, four serve the manufacturing sectors. I am executive director of the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink Manufacturing, one of the first four National Skills Academies founded in 2007. The National Skills Academy for Manufacturing, which covers the automotive, aerospace, electrical, mechanical and engineering industries, was also one of the first four Academies. Then followed the National Skills Academy for Process Industries, which serves the chemical, polymer and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries, and the National Skills Academy for Materials, Production and Supply, which covers sectors including building materials, glass, print, paper and ceramics.

All of these Skills Academies were set up by the respective sector skills councils covering these four areas of manufacturing – Improve, Semta, Cogent and Proskills. The ongoing symbiosis between the Skills Academies and sector skills councils strengthens the links between employer-led skills policy and training delivery.

The National Skills Academy network offers employers a national resource capable of responding to skills needs on a local level. At the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink Manufacturing, we now have 16 networks offering specialist training in everything from bakery to lean manufacturing, with providers in every region of the UK. Our networks will continue to grow, and by sharing expertise and resources between members, our aim is to be able to offer world class training in any discipline to food and drink companies anywhere in the country.

The manufacturing industry is already seeing the benefits. In its first full year of operation, the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink Manufacturing secured £1 million in public training funds for food and drink companies, and to date has seen more than 15,000 learners take courses through its provider members. We have undertaken specific projects with industry such as the launch of the European Centre of Excellence for dairy training, and have also compiled a comprehensive list of food and drink training courses and qualifications which employers can view and search online. The National Skills Academy for Manufacturing, meanwhile, brought employers £12 million worth of benefits from £2 million investment in training in 2008. This was calculated using its unique on-line Learning Engine, which allows employers to assess training needs, pick suitable solutions and then evaluate impact on the business.

Like the manufacturing industry, the National Skills Academy network has some challenging and exciting times ahead. The tightening of funding available for training will make it more important than ever for employers to get sound advice on accessing the most relevant, well-targeted training. The network’s strong employer focus puts it in a strong position to fulfil this need, build on existing relationships and play a key part in helping UK manufacturing prepare for recovery and a successful future.

Justine Fosh, executive director of the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink Manufacturing and chair of the National Skills Academy Strategic Network.

If you’d like to ask Justine a question, email [email protected] and we’ll pass it on.