The right skills are crucial for the electric revolution

Posted on 2 Nov 2021 by The Manufacturer

The electric revolution is a once in a lifetime paradigm shift, not just for British manufacturing but for society as a whole, but the right skills are key, says HVM Catapult’s Dr Benjamin Silverstone.

The UK Government’s commitment to the 2050 net zero target, and the banning of the sales of pure petrol and diesel engine vehicles by 2030, has driven a monumental change in the way that future technologies are viewed and adopted in the UK.

Dr .Benjamin Silverstone. Programme Lead - UK Electrification Skills Framework. University of Warwick
Dr .Benjamin Silverstone. Programme Lead – UK Electrification Skills Framework. University of Warwick

The changes will be far-reaching both from a societal and technological perspective and will fundamentally influence the way we interact with transport, our homes and the planet. Today, the UK has many of the ingredients needed to become a global leader in the design, development, manufacture and use of the technologies that underpin carbon reduction. But we know that one key ingredient – the skills we will need in our workforce – is in perilously short supply.

To seize the full benefit of the electric revolution, we need to re-think the way that UK education delivers the capabilities that industry will need to achieve the goals that will reduce our impact on the climate. The convening powers of the HVM Catapult and WMG, University of Warwick have already delivered great strides forward in the UK’s electrification journey, shaping the Faraday Battery Challenge and laying the foundations for the UK Battery Industrialisation Centres.

older woman assembles electronic components in a hi tech factory - Adobe Stock Image
Electrical skills are key but seemingly in short supply

Working side by side with the Faraday Institution, we are now using those convening powers to bring together a broad range of industry bodies, employers, education providers and local authorities to address the skills challenge we face with a proposal for a National Electrification Skills Framework (NESF).

The philosophy

The NESF is born out of a drive to challenge established modes of delivering education and skills to industry, which often see education lagging significantly behind technology. It brings stakeholders together on a national scale to establish and implement methods of addressing those skills gaps exposed by the increased adoption of technologies such as batteries, power electronics and motors.

The approach doesn’t shy away from acknowledging some of the problems faced by previous skills initiatives. For example, how to remain relevant as needs and technologies evolve; and how to ensure quality across different training providers. Instead, the NESF is built on the premise that it must remain agile and adapt to new requirements.

It includes a strong focus on the quality of provision, stripping away employer fears about variable training quality with robust assurance protocols. And it has been designed to encourage collaboration both between industry and educators, and between educators themselves, allowing organisations to focus on their specialisms and work together for the good of UK industry.

Crucially, the NESF brings all of these components together to address the need to re-skill, up-skill and new-skill workers to support the electrification shift. Tens of thousands of UK workers will see their roles either change significantly, or disappear, as part of this evolution.

So, robust forward planning to understand and identify reskilling opportunities, is critical. Many others will want to up-skill themselves to better meet the challenges ahead and build meaningful careers. The NESF will also build a pipeline to bring young people out of education and into industry as part of the new-skill initiative. These measures will build the future capacity that the UK will need to realise its ambitions.

The approach

The NESF functions at levels 2-8 (or equivalent) and is informed by industry partners from a wide range of sectors. Whilst the automotive industry has led the way in electrification in recent years, there are huge changes in the aerospace, rail, and maritime sectors and, crucially for the supporting infrastructure, large changes in the utilities sector.

Sector agnostic thinking has allowed the team to identify the common ground that exists between all sectors. This allows for higher quality provision and a more mobile workforce that will be able to move and adapt as requirements change over time. At the same time, the NESF will allow for a better understanding of what is more unique in each sector so that all competencies can be met more effectively.

Taking advantage of new Government funding approaches, much of what will be available is modular in nature, providing individuals and companies with opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills at rates to suit their needs. Importantly, the modular offerings are common between both short- and long course provision so that there is consistency in the topics. This means that two people who have reached the same point through different routes will have developed the same skills.

Critical for widening participation, the NESF is designed to have no dead ends, allowing for visible career paths for people at all levels, whatever their role or previous education. The NESF also challenges the existing structures of the UK education system. As well as challenging it to become more forward looking and responsive, the framework challenges providers to look at ways to share credit and allow learners to accumulate their credit across a range of providers in a timeframe that suits them.

This requires levels of collaboration that are currently being built, but also requires additional political will to create the environment in which it can happen in a supportive way. The National Electrification Skills Framework offers benefits for all who care that we drive towards a low carbon future.

It gives employers a forum within which they can discuss their skills needs, identify the most appropriate interventions and trial approaches to meet them, whether through short courses, apprenticeships, or school-level interventions.

It gives training providers opportunities to engage and bring their expertise and experience to bear in meeting industry needs, providing crucial guidance on how best to develop their capacity and capabilities to meet local and regional needs. It gives accrediting bodies opportunities to engage with wider employer groups to better understand needs and to reflect these more effectively in accreditation work.

It gives learners access to a quality-assured stream of highly relevant learning opportunities that will help them to grow their careers, often in roles paying well above national average wages.  And, of course, the framework gives politicians a greater confidence that the UK will have the ability to meet the ambitious but essential goals they have set on reaching net zero.

Work is ongoing in power electronics, motors & drives with development focused on driving both the manufacture & use of new technologies AdobeStock_277394004
Work is ongoing in power electronics, motors & drives with development focused on driving both the manufacture & use of new technologies

Be part of the programme

So far, the development of the NESF has been driven by almost 80 industry partners, educators, and other stakeholders. Much has been done to develop and curate immediate interventions for the automotive and commercial vehicles sectors, as well as short and longer term interventions for the rapidly growing cell and battery manufacturing sector.

Work is ongoing in power electronics, motors and drives with development focused on driving both the manufacture and use of new technologies. We want to draw more voices into this programme. Employers, learning providers and awarding bodies, professional bodies, and statutory and regulatory authorities all have a role to play in building a framework that delivers what the UK needs now and in years to come.

There is a huge opportunity to reshape the way that education and skills are delivered in the UK. The National Electrification Skills Framework is a blueprint others can follow to address other challenges posed by the 2050 net zero pledge. It is an approach built on collaboration and quality with social values at its core. This is how the UK can build back better in a sustainable and responsible way whilst looking over the horizon to address future challenges and meet them head on.

Want to get involved? Contact us at [email protected].

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