Solving UK skills shortage takes a stroke of Enginuity

Posted on 4 Mar 2020 by Jonny Williamson

In recent years, Semta has been one of the most influential employer-led engineering skills training bodies in our sector, connecting employers with skills training, and joining up the dots between them, career-seekers and government. Now the Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance has a new name: Enginuity. Just a brand change or something more significant? We discussed this with Enginuity’s Chief Executive Ann Watson.

Ann Watson, CEO of Enginuity
Ann Watson, CEO of Enginuity

Whenever any organisation changes its brand, the inevitable question is whether it is for positive reasons or merely cosmetic.

Ann Watson could not have made it more clear: this represents a step-change in activity for the organisation she represents.

Enginuity will still do everything that the Semta Group, which includes our specialist awarding organisation EAL, did before. The big difference with Enginuity is we have invested over £3m in new skills for ourselves. That means creating an Innovation Lab with data and digital skill sets that we never had before.

And what that enables us to do is start to bring better insight, better data around skills gaps, skills needs from employers, and then start to actually develop technological solutions to help employers and individuals fill those skills gaps.

Some would say most UK manufacturers haven’t put as high a premium on skills and training as their counterparts in Europe and the US. Do you agree with that? And if so, is that going to make your life more difficult? 

I think with all things there are good and bad examples. There’s some great employers who invest hugely in skills. There’s other employers that don’t do so much. But equally we have quite a complicated educational and vocational skill system.

Quite often it’s not easy for employers to find the skills that they need and the people to help them. So one of the real aims around Enginuity is to make that journey much easier and to be the sector connector, bringing together in one place all of the different initiatives and all of the different places to go to find that training or the skills that you need, so that employers large or small can find, from a trusted organisation like Enginuity, the solutions to their skills needs.

This article first appeared in the March/April issue of The Manufacturer magazine. Click here to subscribe

When you said the vocational education system, and that means FE education in the main, is ‘complicated’ do you not mean completely decimated over the last 10, 15 years or so? Because the FE system is not in a good place when it comes to serving manufacturers. That’s what we hear from all our research. 

Mechanic showing engines to apprentices
Instructor showing engines to apprentices. Image: Shutterstock

And that’s absolutely right. I think the FE sector would say exactly the same themselves.

For many, many years they’ve seen funding cuts. As we see that technological change within the engineering and manufacturing sector, it’s really important that the FE sector gets the investment to allow them to help train our future engineers, apprentices or even the existing workforce.

That they’re able to provide those skills and that training, using the up-to-date technology that those individuals would see in the workplace.

When you say you’re going to be using data and digitalisation as part of your toolset, how does that actually work? Are you talking about as part of your training systems, training courses that you’re going to be offering? 

We’ve now got a chief innovation officer, we’ve invested in an Innovation Lab. We’re now recruiting the skillsets that we see our employees recruiting, so we’ve got a data scientist, and we’re just about to recruit our second. We’ve got a scrum team of developers. We’ve got a head of customer experience and digital experience.

And we’re using all of those skills and that knowledge to be able to bring in better insight, to identify what some of the emerging skills are coming through, not just in the UK but globally, so we can start to predict skills, and in doing so then help employers see what’s coming over the horizon and help them to build training programmes to help deliver those skills.

Gamification is a huge area, and we know there’s a skills gap in the sector. So we are about to launch a Minecraft-based game set in an electric car factory, which is really targeted at young people and adults of all ages, to give them an insight into engineering thinking, what an engineering environment actually does look like.

Minecraft adapted for skills and training by Enginuity. Image: Enginuity

The beauty of the game is it’s mapped to the Level 3 technician standards. So for a young person who’s playing the game, it will start to show them how they’re evidencing their engineering thinking and engineering skills, with a view to actually showing them that engineering could be a career for them.

One of the consequences of the attrition in the FE sector is that a lot of young people haven’t been able to get any paper qualifications, but they do have valuable skillsets. You’re going to be finding ways to help employers discover unaccredited, invisible skillsets amongst young people. How does that work? 

The Minecraft-based game means employers can use the outputs of the game to actually consider a young person who they may not have considered before as a potential apprentice. It gives us a great opportunity in terms of disadvantaged young people who may not have the academic achievements that we’ve traditionally recruited on.

We want to reach the “hidden minority”, those with Asperger’s or Autism who are brilliant at playing games and could be fantastic recruits for that logical and structured world of engineering that we’re going into.

We’re also looking at crediting some of those other skills that we don’t get through the traditional education system. So we’re looking at digital badging and digital credentials that Enginuity, as a trusted organisation, can award and provide those digital credentials that will give employers that element of reassurance that they’re looking for.

This is the world into which we’re moving: people will constantly pick up new skills and new abilities, and we must give them the achievement and the recognition for that.

You mentioned that there are lots of organisations in the STEM sector with whom you collaborate, but all the research that we do tells us that there so many – perhaps too many – voices in the manufacturing sector, not just in the education arena.

It seems a very British thing, to have lots of uncoordinated small voices, very rarely do we get what we see in other countries, which is one big voice. Is that something that you identify with, and is that why you’re saying that Enginuity could become – the one big voice when it comes to STEM? 

I think there’s certainly a role for Enginuity to be that sector connector. We can’t solve the skills problem and the skills challenge on our own, so we do need to work with other organisations. And as we see the big technological change in industry, what we are seeing is that sectors and the skills needs of the different sectors within engineering and manufacturing are aligning.

As a result there’s much more of an appetite for collaboration across sectors that you wouldn’t have seen historically: Rail wanting to collaborate with Aerospace and Defence, there is definitely some movement in that area.

That is why Enginuity is now working alongside Make UK and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult to form a skills alliance where we will work together around a collective and very inclusive vision. This is about starting a movement that other people and organisations can join.

From an employer perspective, again, digital skills have become that great leveller, because every employer, large or small, needs to upskill their existing workforce with digital skills. So we’ve established, at the employers’ request an employer skills commitment, which means we’ve now got employers such as QinetiQ, GKN and Network Rail actively signing up to work with Enginuity and other employers, working together on this digital skills challenge.

Learn more about Enginuity’s plans here.

This is an edited version of an interview that appeared in the March-April issue of The Manufacturer.  Become a subscriber today to enjoy the benefits that come from being part of The Manufacturer community.