“Manufacturing delivers 10% of UK GVA, 45% of UK exports and 1/5th of inward investment to the UK. It accounts for 69% of all investment in research and development and employs some 2.7 million people."

"At first sight these are healthy numbers, but the overall contribution manufacturing makes to our economy, the scale of its employment and the proportion of manufactured goods in our export statistics are in decline both in absolute terms and in comparison with competitor nations. That decline need not be terminal.”

So says a concise new report from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult  and Gatsby Foundation, with its main theme being how the UK addresses its increasing and unmet need for skilled and knowledgeable people to replace an ageing workforce, ever-reliant on overseas expertise to fill gaps.

The report provides insights into how this might be done - put simply it calls for different stakeholders in government, industry and academia to work together with a lasting common purpose to ensure that the UK manufacturing workforce is equipped with the skills of tomorrow.”

The report recommends that the way manufacturers work to recruit and develop workers must change in order to survive the global technological revolution occurring right now, with the prize being the exploitation of advances from Industry 4.0 enabling technologies such of blockchain, internet of things and artificial intelligence.

The UK can “secure its position as a world leader in the effective commercialisation of the very best ideas. The contribution our manufacturers make to our economic and social wellbeing would blossom.”

Whilst most advanced manufacturing nations are also facing similar issues to the UK, they demonstrate a “stability of their skills systems and the degree of collaboration between the different stakeholders clearly enabled workforce development related to innovation to take place.”

For Swindon and Wiltshire, the SWLEP has worked with government, industry and academia to address these issues in its Local Industrial StrategyIt looks forward to the new Institute of Technology in Swindon to involving employers in a responsive curriculum that upskills local people to produce the more complex goods and services required in a 5G-enabled and globalised society. The new centre should be able to deliver on a key recommendation from the report; “to convene technologists, industry, education and training partners, and government as a focal point for their technology to foresight and articulate future skills needs, standards and qualifications associated with emerging technologies.”

Currently, local firms rely on the SWLEPs' Higher Futures service that helps upskill employees with higher level qualifications from partner universities in bespoke, modular and bite-sized formats appropriate to need.

The SWLEP is also keen for local SMEs to review their workforce's digital skills needs - whether to underpin new digital products and services, or simply to maintain competitiveness - and obtain training on offer from the ESF programme. Free training, from level 2 upwards ranges from introduction to leadership and management, to full accredited technical courses, and should be discussed with Serco’s SSW project.

The local ERDF programme sees two new projects coming on line – the Digital Business Accelerator delivered by Set Squared and separately, the High Value Manufacturing Investment Programme from SWMAS. Both services support SMEs to take forward product development, and inevitably will involve helping those businesses ensure they have the skills to succeed.