Let’s raise a glass to closing the skills gap - Gillian Murray

Professor Gillian Murray is Deputy Principal for Enterprise and Business at Heriot-Watt UniversityProfessor Gillian Murray is Deputy Principal for Enterprise and Business at Heriot-Watt University
Professor Gillian Murray is Deputy Principal for Enterprise and Business at Heriot-Watt University
Heriot-Watt’s apprenticeship programme benefits Scotland’s brewing and distilling industry

Scotland, whisky, distilling and brewing are synonymous. The earliest documented record of distilling in our country occurred in 1494 as ‘eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae’. This industry has grown significantly in the centuries that have followed but what hasn’t changed is the need for skilled staff to keep the collective cogs turning as the industry continues to evolve with technological advancement.

Our country has a robust brewing and distilling industry that collectively employs close to 100 000 people – central to Scotland’s economy, tourism and export market. Yet there’s still a gap in certain skill sets throughout the supply chains needed for today’s markets. These include engineering, data analysis, digital literacy and meta skills like problem solving and critical thinking, according to Scotland’s Brewing Industry Leadership Group.

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Heriot-Watt University has a long-standing reputation in brewing and distilling education, research and industry engagement, notably through its International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD) facility. The Centre forges strong links between academia and industry, helping to encourage close collaboration. In addition, the university is proudly co-located on the Scottish Whisky Research Institute’s premises.

Distilling is part of Scotland's heritage but new techniques are vitalDistilling is part of Scotland's heritage but new techniques are vital
Distilling is part of Scotland's heritage but new techniques are vital

As the industry inevitably grows, there is an increasingly competitive market for recruitment. Therefore, investing in today’s workforces through initiatives like Graduate Apprenticeships can help establish a reputation for longer term career development and create a talent pipeline for the future. The university has a range of GA programmes such as Heriot-Watt’s Engineering Design and Manufacture programme, that can meet the needs of the brewing and distilling sector – manufacturing, processing and distribution – from understanding data to innovating technology to engineering for the manufacturing process.

We believe that these programmes are an important catalyst for change and an ideal avenue to allow people of all ages and life stages to further their studies and careers while also enhancing their practical, hands-on job experience.

Industry involvement is crucial and vital to a successful GA approach. A long-standing supporter and industry partner of the university, Diageo, has been championing our university’s GA programme for several years. The company sees the benefit of their employees undertaking these degrees because they know the additional value that can be gained in the workplace.

Kelly Fraser, Packaging and Automation Manager at Diageo, completed the Engineering Design and Manufacture GA programme a few years ago and now actively mentors the current Diageo Graduate Apprentices within the Diageo Global Engineering team to do the same. She said: “The GA’s are bringing their learnings back into the workplace. Completing the GA programme has helped me personally in my career progression through the professional development it has provided.

“Based on my personal experience, I have championed and gained sponsorship with the Diageo Global Engineering Leadership team to expand utilisation of the Graduate Apprenticeship programme with Heriot Watt. We have two GAs currently nearing completion of year one and are recruiting an additional two GAs this year. Diageo Global Engineering has identified this programme as a key enabler to our Future-Fit Capability & Culture Strategic Pillar and we see this as a tool to grow grass-roots packaging and distillation technical specialists within the Diageo Global Engineering function.”

If we are to benefit from a prosperous brewing and distilling industry brimming with longevity, education and industry must work together to develop the talent that will take this sector forward. I’d encourage more industry partners to get involved in further learning programmes to develop a more robust and skilled workforce.

As a collective, between education and industry, we can untangle and correct the current skills shortages troubling this sector.

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