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Driving sustainability and supporting the Net Zero vision through industrially integrated education

Driving sustainability and supporting the Net Zero vision through industrially integrated education

Sue Parr, Director of Apprenticeships and Part-time Programmes – WMG
Dr Ben Silverstone, UK Electrification Skills Framework Programme Lead – WMG

Establishing shot of WMG's Degree Apprenticeship Centre. The Green Industrial Revolution is underpinned by a series of ambitious targets to reduce the UK’s contribution to climate change by driving down carbon emissions, enacted through policies such as the banning of sales of purely fossil fuel vehicles by 2030 . In order to successfully accelerate the path to Net Zero and deliver on this national effort, organisations across the UK must actively engage with education providers as well as each other to reflect, reinvest, and realign training strategies to equip workforces with the right skills.

The education sector is responding to national requirements to up-skill, re-skill and new-skill workers in key sectors such as automotive, rail, aviation, finance, engineering and manufacturing. Re-skilling those whose roles are shifting, up-skilling others into more technical roles and new-skilling young people into the workforce is key in meeting the rapidly shifting technological and skills demands.

The UK has announced its ambitions to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035, and the importance of achieving Net Zero is acknowledged in the UK Government’s Build Back Better plan for growth. This vision hinges on our ability to reinforce our economic and environmental infrastructure, actively drive the development of skills, and encourage innovation.

Headshot of Sue Parr.Developing the workforces needed to support sustainability and decarbonisation

Linking education with industry requirements is a key mechanism if we are to support sustainability, electrification and the path to Net Zero by driving a pipeline of skills. Businesses need to fully engage with educational institutions if they are to continuously evolve based on their needs. The automotive sector is an example of an industry that is undergoing rapid change with the shift to electric vehicles driven by customer demand and government legislation. Remaining ahead of the curve as an educator is critical in ensuring that skills can be delivered at the point of need rather than waiting until there is excessive demand impacting on productivity and competitiveness.

In order to achieve the Net Zero vision, we need to consider the way that education establishes its priorities in the design of courses to ensure that they are forward looking, flexible and can adapt to rapid change. A focus also needs to be put on the new infrastructures and materials that are being embedded to ensure that new technologies and products can be recycled, reused, and realigned for other second life applications. If we are actively investing in skills and facilities in key areas such as battery technology, automotive electrification as well as power electronics motors and drives, then we need to also ensure that the factories, materials and processes are sustainable, otherwise the impact of reducing carbon emissions via new technologies will not reach its full potential. Embedding sustainability within the curriculum, at all levels, will help to drive not only the shift to greener technologies but also towards ensuring their long-term sustainability by designing and building products that are easier to repair, repurpose or recycle.

This is just one example of how education and businesses need to work together to establish future skills needs in order that appropriate education and training can be delivered at the point of need. A guided approach to engagement, such as the Foresighting process developed by the High Value Manufacturing Catapult to bring industry and education together, establish competency requirements and deliver solutions, can ensure on-going relationships and the identification of skills in the long term.

Headshot of Dr Ben Silverstone. Promoting lifelong learning

Equally, as new technologies emerge focused on mass electric vehicle consumption, the pace at which the automotive sector is evolving shows that there will, and should, never be an end point when it comes to acquiring new skills. This is comparable across many other industries that are also focusing efforts in the electrification space, for example aerospace, marine and rail. Promoting lifelong learning should be high on the agenda of all businesses and employees to not just keep up with the pace of change but plan for the delivery of future needs and technologies. Investing in skills that allow for greater job mobility will help to ensure the future of the workforce as technologies, and skills needs, shift at an ever-increasing pace.

Embedding a culture of industry engagement with education is critical in ensuring that future skills needs can be met. The focus of filling skills gaps must shift from established needs to future requirements so that emerging competencies can be effectively captured and appropriate training and development established. A sustainable future, in terms of education, is one in which establishments collaborate to elevate one another, sharing resources and experience for the betterment of industry and for the individuals who trust them to provide the education and training they require for their futures. Removing progression blocks will also drive sustainability in the workforce by enhancing retention of staff where they can see that they have options and opportunities within their career.

The Net Zero vision has provided academia and industry with an unparalleled opportunity to come together and drive the capability of the UK forward. However, based on the ambitious timelines and commitments made by the government, new collaborations and partnerships between academia and industry must be developed at pace to drive sustainability both in the contexts of the environment but also in terms of career longevity for individuals.

Find out more about the Degree Apprenticeship provision at WMG, University of Warwick here.

Article originally featured by Engineering Magazine here.