Tomorrow’s world

Posted on 7 Jan 2011 by The Manufacturer

Sector Skills Council for science-based industries, Cogent, has released a new batch of sector assessment reports to define the specific skills needed for growth in specific industries.

The five new Sector Skills Assessment (SSA) reports include a national SSA for the UK and four individual reports for the constituent nations as well as a summary document. The detailed reports consolidate Cogent’s existing research reports, including the Skills Oracle and nuclear Renaissance series.

The reports provide an up-to-date projection of demand, industry-by-industry across Cogent’s target sectors of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, nuclear, oil and gas, petroleum and polymer. This shows an overall long term decline in traditional industries, for example polymers, oil and gas and chemicals dissipated by continuing intakes to replace an aging workforce and overall growth in nuclear new build and bioscience.

Cogent’s reports also provide back ground on the general demographics and economic activity of science based business in the UK. It is estimated that Cogent’s sectors comprise over 900,000 people across 23,000 companies and are responsible for considerable industrial economic activity, spending nearly £7.8bn a year on new capital investment. Predicted growth in the nuclear sector could double this investment of it own accord through new build activity. Science based business covered by national statistics are shown to generate a turnover of over £200bn and a gross value added (GVA) of more than £65 billion, a GVA of 6.5% of the UK total. Companies operating in the science based sector include micro to global sized organisations with more than two thirds employing 10 people or fewer. Just over half of the workforce is engaged by companies with in excess of 50 staff, and one third by those with a headcount above 200.

Key finding from the skills assessments included predicted labour levels needed in each of the science based sub-sectors up to 2017. It was found that: polymers has a net requirement for an additional 40,000 employees, pharmaceuticals (manufacturing only) an additional 25,000, chemicals an additional 15,000, manufactured fuels an additional 8,000, oil and gas an additional 7,000 and nuclear an additional 10,000. This totals a requirement of 105,000 recruits to science based industries over the next 5-6 years.

Science graduates will be critical in supplying this requirement however the proportion of STEM graduates currently entering science based industries in the UK is small and the keenly sought expertise of graduating students is becoming thinly stretched. Rising tuition fees for university courses will be a concern for those looking for a rise in STEM graduate numbers and there are calls from industry for government to provide incentives both for universities and individuals to facilitate talented STEM students.

Cogent predicts that skills gaps will continue to emerge across all science based occupations as a consequence of technology advance and regulation and compliance pressures. From the analysis it would appear that the occupations most at risk of a skills shortage are associated professional, process operatives and skilled trades, for which the main entry routes are through apprenticeships or recruits taking vocationally related qualifications. The recent boost behind apprenticeship routes and the raised profile of vocational education along with the establishment of STEM academies across the UK should help bridge technician and operative level skills gaps however, Cogent identifies that consistent support and activity on this front will be required to sustain intakes.

While Cogent’s skills analysis documents do not project skills shortages at an overall sectoral level. However, skills shortages continue to exist at the sub-sectoral level and there is particular evidence of this from the pharmaceuticals and bio industries for very high level and specialist skills.

Skills priorities for science based industries identified in the UK are identified by Cogent’s assessments and the SSC stipulates that it will support these priorities by driving:

•Standards and qualifications focused on science-using occupations – (80% of the workforce)

•Standards and qualifications to address skills gaps in the technical and regulatory compliance

•Awareness of the level of requirement for new personnel in science-using occupations by 2017

•Industry consultation on analysis of demand for 61,000 new technician, process operative and skilled trade occupations

•Products for industry to assure skills standards of its supply chain linked to Passport development with the National Skills Academies

•Initiatives and interventions to facilitate uptake of technician and skilled trade occupations

•Skills Gaps initiatives opposite HE to improve the employability of STEM graduates and greater interaction between HE and employers- e.g. placements

•Initiatives opposite FE and HE to develop accredited CPD provision for the workforce, e.g. Foundation Degrees and Higher Level Apprenticeships