Are we smart enough to be ready for the future of apprentices in Scotland’s industries?

Scott Sinclair, managing director, CeeD
Scott Sinclair, managing director, CeeD
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Do we understand the future-proofing of skills needed to prepare the ground for the 2017 intake of graduate apprenticeships in manufacturing and engineering so they are ready to become the managers and leaders in the Factories of the Future – where ‘smart’ manufacturing in ‘smart’ factories will be the new industrial bedrock?

The question was prompted recently after CeeD was asked by UWS – the University of West of Scotland – to organise a clinic based on two frameworks under the new Graduate Apprenticeship Programme.

The question, however, requires further probing.

In terms of these two frameworks and how they apply to the graduate apprenticeship programme – one is in engineering and one is focused on software. However, if you look closely at the factories of the future agenda, there will be little differentiation between these two subject areas – and this is so pivotal around the future proofing of our skills agenda.

With Industry 4.0, encompassing areas such as IoT (Internet of Things), ‘smart’ manufacturing and engineering will call for a ‘fusion’ of academic schools, resources and practices, which will make the need for having two distinct university ‘schools’ of engineering or computer science obsolete. They will, for the greatest part, be one and the same.

There might be different programming elements, but most technology applications won’t bother whether they are looking at a manufacturing environment or a financial services environment. The skills and the logic required to take the game forward will be closely integrated. whereas just now, they are still separate skills sets.

So where does that leave the Apprenticeship Levy in Scotland, which the UK Government has championed? The Apprenticeship Levy will begin in April where employers in the public, private and third sectors will be 0.5 per cent of their annual salary bill in excess of £3 million.

North of the Border, questions remain about the Apprenticeship Levy. The Scottish Government remains undecided in deploying it and consultations continue. The rest of the UK is in a stronger position, where the UK government has made a clear statement that the money for the apprenticeship levy is completely ring-fenced, so the apprenticeship levy is fully invested in skills development.

As it currently stands in Scotland, Holyrood has so far failed to make that clarity and it therefore remains in limbo. It means that Skills Development Scotland (SDS), so keen to tell Scottish employers about the opportunities, are not yet positioned to do so, until there is clearer picture from the Scottish Government. There is an urgent need for them to let employers know how they are going to utilise this funding.

This is required for the need to invest in the future of our industries.

Graduate apprenticeships will help us achieve a goal of wanting to raise the ambition for Scotland’s medium to long-term manufacturing future. We need more people at the helm of companies in the manufacturing and engineering sectors to set Factories of the Future as a strategic short term objective and get it in their plans for 2017. Once it’s in it is there for good!

Indeed, this should be a pivotal for the year ahead and No 1 on your strategic agenda– even ahead of bringing new customers on board. Just think of this. If you integrate Factories of the Future thinking now, you are creating the capacity to allow you to absorb new customer business in the years ahead.

Fundamentally, the skills agenda – future-proof the skills agenda against a medium-term horizon – means making decisions NOW. If a graduate-level person is to be ready in four or five years on the completion of studies and is being brought in via the Graduate Apprenticeship programme, how do we help shape and define that role? What plans will be put in place?

The beauty of the Graduate Apprenticeship programme is that being brand new, it is being set up as a framework model, allowing greater influence over content than does an existing traditional degree, which has different requirements in terms of making changes and accreditation.

This will help with efficiencies and ability to managing future market threats which might include Brexit (but we don’t yet know!)

However, we also need a resolution from the Scottish Government on how the apprenticeship levy is going to be applied. From that point, there is a much clearer path ahead to embrace the Factories of the Future with confidence.

Scott Sinclair, managing 
director, CeeD