The skill requirements for a net zero future: The Manufacturer in conversation

Faced with the current climate emergency, manufacturers across the UK are looking at how they can future proof their business with sustainable solutions that position them firmly on the race to net zero.

At the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), we recently hosted a Roundtable event with The Manufacturer Magazine and several Scottish businesses to discuss and consider what steps must be taken to ensure the sector has the skills needed for the green jobs of the future.

In attendance, we welcomed:

  • Stewart McKinlay, Skills Director at NMIS
  • Dr Jill Miscandlon, Senior Manufacturing Engineer at NMIS
  • Michael Forbes, General Manager at the Innovation Centre for Renewable Parts
  • Sally Bowie, CEO Mask Logic
  • Paul Feely, Academy Director at BAE System naval ships division
  • Ollie Folayan, Co-founder and Chairman of AFBE-UK
  • Alan Thompson, Head of Government Affairs, Skyrora
  • Steven Rogers, Production Engineer, Mitsubishi Electric
  • Ifey Kanu, Founder and CEO of Intellidigest
  • Chris McComb, Managing Director of Booth Welsh
  • Mina Hanna, PowerHouse Project Manager at Cromarty Firth
  • Mark Cowan, Head of HR at Scottish Leather Group

Stemming from the overarching topic of ‘the skill requirements for a net zero future’, The Manufacturer MD Henry Anson chaired discussion around three key themes. Firstly, we looked at whether the UK manufacturing sector is at risk of a net-zero skills shortage, before focusing on how we can retain the existing workforce and support them into greener jobs, and finally how we can support SMEs to diversify their skill set and become more sustainable.

When asked ‘Do we have a good understanding of the range of roles and skills needed in the long-term vs. short-term?’ attendees argued that the challenge is perhaps that things are evolving so quickly.

The group discussed that businesses need to be agile as there are going to be some serious skills shortages, however when taking a broader view on transferable skills, there is much more talent in the industry than we perhaps appreciate and we can help bridge the skills gap.

Others suggested that this is a critical conversation that needs to be had, and recognised that dots are beginning to join but this is a wider conversation, and Government, organisations and businesses must collaborate to develop solutions.

Additionally, automation was suggested as having a great role to play as it frees up the workforce up to be retrained in other areas of the business, focusing on innovation and development.

As we moved on to the support for greener jobs, attendees were asked about green skills and if they felt there was sufficient alignment with a business’s understanding compared to the education system. Some attendees expressed the opinion that the education system is improving but it needs to be agile enough to reflect the changing and developing needs of society and employers.

When asked ‘Should Remanufacturing Engineering be a recognised course within universities alongside traditional Manufacturing Engineering?’ attendees expressed that while remanufacturing is already embedded within some courses, it is still not the focus and can be an afterthought. Additionally, companies should continue to be educated to understand why it’s important and change their mindset.

Some attendees voiced that part of the challenge with education, whether it’s schools, further or higher education, is that it tends to be risk averse. It was suggested that if remanufacturing engineering was firstly introduced as a module to existing courses, it’s a step along the way, and as the demand increases and volume rises, then universities and colleges can progress to offering full degrees.

Discussion then moved on to how people can be helped to really take that next step, do the right thing and move more towards sustainability, and also, how can policymakers be effectively engaged.

One attendee suggested that a mindset change is needed with the emphasis being on the small changes that can be made to make a process or product more sustainable as the economy shifts from a linear model to a more circular one. It was suggested that now feels like the right time to have that conversation with businesses who are developing a strategy beyond the impact of their bottom line.

When looking at transferable skills, attendees discussed the funding, support and advice that is available for workers including those with years of experience in other sectors such as oil and gas to reskill and pursue greener jobs or projects. It was agreed that more research is needed for the roles of the future and that conversations should be ongoing with policymakers as businesses and the economy evolve.

Overall, the evening facilitated lively debate and informed discussion around this area, and we look forward to expanding on this with members through our new campaign which is supporting manufacturing businesses with the upskilling of their workforces as they recover and grow following the pandemic.

As part of the campaign, hosted by our Manufacturing Skills Academy, we will help manufacturers take advantage of new market opportunities as Scotland continues its COVID-19 response and recovery. By highlighting the skills required for emerging manufacturing sectors, including roles within green sectors, we will help employers and employees upskill and diversify whilst working to futureproof businesses so that jobs exist after the immediate COVID recovery phase.

The initiative is part of the funding awarded to NMIS earlier this year from the Scottish Government’s £25 million National Transition Training Fund (NTTF). It will also see the wider NMIS Group encourage Scottish manufacturing businesses to utilise available opportunities for innovation, mainly through the UK and Scottish Government R&D funding schemes, and support manufacturers and associated supply chain partners of all sizes in identifying the best solution for them.

On behalf of NMIS, thank you to The Manufacturer and all attendees for taking part in our roundtable event.

To continue the conversation around skills within the Scottish manufacturing sector and to find out more about our new development and training scheme, visit: https://www.nmis.scot/manufacturing-skills-academy/national-transition-training-fund/