Work Foundation joins BAE Systems’ call for nationwide push to develop skills for Industry 4.0

A young female engineer © BAE Systems

The Work Foundation is backing BAE Systems as it calls for a concerted and co-ordinated effort by industry, Government and the education sector to ensure the UK can fully benefit from the digital revolution and Industry 4.0.

The company says defence, aerospace, engineering and manufacturing sectors need to work together and prioritise investment in digital and ‘soft skills’, upskilling and retraining and supporting supply chains and SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises), to respond to the expected levels of complexity in industrial and business systems and unprecedented demand from technologies such as artificial intelligence.

BAE Systems Chief Technology Officer Nigel Whitehead, who spoke and was a panellist at the Work Foundation’s recent centenary celebrations, also suggested that businesses in these sectors need to create a more diverse, inclusive and flexible workplace by reflecting different working preferences and lifestyles.

To help address the UK’s shortage of engineers, he called for a nationwide programme of activity to improve the perception of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and careers and for the engineering industry to consider recruiting more people with highly applicable skills that traditionally are more associated with arts subjects, such as creativity and problem solving.

In the whitepaper ‘Future Skills for our UK Business’ – shaped by Work Foundation director Lesley Giles – BAE Systems sets out six guiding principles for the development of skills in the UK in an environment of rapid technological change and fierce global competition.

They are:

1. Create a more diverse, inclusive and flexible workplace for the employees of tomorrow, as the UK must attract and retain top class talent.

2. Commit to retraining and upskilling; it is vital for innovation and growth that employees continue to learn throughout their careers.

3. Prioritise investment in digital, soft and behavioural skills; to give the employees the broad range of technical and people skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace.

4. Continue to support suppliers and the SME community so that they can develop skills in the digitally-enabled workplace; successful and innovative partners help the UK economy thrive.

5. Continue to improve the perception of STEM subjects and careers; encouraging graduates and young people into a dynamic and rewarding industry.

6. Continue to champion vocational training; working with Government to ensure training is funded and prioritised.

At a launch event at the BAE Systems’ s Academy for Skills & Knowledge in Samlesbury, Lancashire, Nigel Whitehead, said: “I am personally really excited by the opportunities in today’s highly connected world and what the future will bring, but we cannot be complacent. By taking tangible action now and capitalising on the ambition of young people coupled with the UK’s traditions and advantages – education, strong legal frameworks, technical innovations and leadership – we can exploit the digital revolution and compete on the world stage.”

Work Foundation director Lesley Giles said: “New agile employment opportunities offer a better work/life balance, rethinking what people do, how, when and where they do it, and allowing flexibility with start and finish times around their busy lives.

“Through such changes, there is the potential to achieve Work 4.0 and to create more good work, where businesses can secure and share success, through their people and an empowered workforce. Good work involves people in purposeful activity, providing meaning and social structure and allows space for people to continuously innovate in the workplace, including optimising new technology.”

BAE Systems invests £90m annually in skills in the UK, providing world-class training facilities for its employees and education to ensure its current and future workforce are trained to the highest standards. At any given time, there are approximately 2,500 apprentices and graduates in training across its UK business.

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