Ufi announces funding for new projects to improve vocational skills in manufacturing

Ufi is excited to announce the launch of three new projects as part of its Manufacturing Skills Fund (MSF). The fund is providing £1 million funding in the use of digital technology to improve how vocational learning is delivered in the manufacturing sector, at a time when access to skilled workers is crucial for the UK’s manufacturing industry.

The innovative projects receiving funding include:

  • National Composites Centre: Using augmented reality tools to deliver training for manufacturing processes requiring high dexterity skills;
  • The Manufacturing Technology Centre: An online resource designed to help SMEs identify their staff skills gaps and development needs;
  • The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP): Bite-sized learning tools embedded in remote workplaces;

In 2017, the UK’s manufacturing sector grew, with order books for Britain’s factories at their strongest for almost 30 years, as the weaker pound and global growth bolstered demand for manufactured goods. However, to continue this upward trend, manufacturers need to close a widening skills gap – up to one-third of vacancies are persistently hard-to-fill – to be able to meet increasing product demand.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, the number of skilled workers coming to the UK has dropped.  Manufacturers will increasingly need to look to upskill existing staff and train UK candidates to ensure they have the necessary skills. Providing training can be challenging for manufacturers, as vocational skills courses can be tricky to deliver without compromising productivity and many courses currently require employees to leave the workplace to train.

Rebecca Garrod-Waters, Ufi CEO, commented:

“This is a critical time for the manufacturing industry – at the same time as demand is increasing, the industry’s access to skilled workers is diminishing. The projects we are funding will help transform how vocational learning is delivered to the UK manufacturing workforce, utilising digital solutions to upskill workers in a cost-effective way without impacting productivity. We’re excited by how innovative these three projects are – from the use of augmented reality, to online bite-sized learning environments – each is developing scalable solutions to the challenge at hand.”

More information about each of the projects can be found below:

 

National Composites Centre (NCC) – Digitally augmented learning for high dexterity manufacturing

The market for composite products is growing and there is the potential for skills shortages, especially for SMEs. Manual layup of composites is a highly skilled manufacturing process. Currently the skills required by laminators are passed onto new employees learning on the job shadowing experienced workers. This project aims to develop training and assessment resources using augmented reality, for SME employees who need lamination skills and to explore how this approach could be adapted for other manufacturing processes requiring high dexterity skills. If successful, it will avoid removing skilled laminators from production activity to train others; and makes one-to-many, and distance training possible. The project will be trialled with a number of SMEs already working with the National Composites Centre and local FE colleges delivering apprenticeship content on composites for employers.

 

The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) – Online Training Needs Analysis System

SMEs must adopt advanced technologies and processes to increase productivity, including emerging digital technologies associated with Industry 4.0. These processes are described in competency frameworks which set out the skills needed, but SMEs often lack the means of identifying their skills gaps and accessing appropriate learning to meet their needs.

Current provision mainly consists of internal assessments in which staff identify their ‘level of confidence’ in completing tasks. These lack measurements or links to new and emerging technologies not yet in use. SMEs can struggle to determine the gap between current and future skills needs; and are overwhelmed with the selection of training available, which makes it difficult to identify what training to invest in and who to invest with.

MTC aim to develop an online training needs analysis system to provide SMEs with a fast, easy and free tool to analyse their current skills and identify the skills needed. It will then recommend quality providers of relevant training solutions and access to learning materials.

 

Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) – Using Technology to embed learning in remote settings

It can be a challenge to keep learners engaged throughout their learning, particularly during work placement and work experience. Learners may not understand the vocational significance of some learning; and even vocationally specific content needs embedding to be remembered. This is increasingly important with the introduction of synoptic end point assessments in the new apprenticeship standards. This project aims to address this challenge by providing learners with access to a wide range of bite sized learning, through a variety of digital technologies.

Working in partnership with Gen2, who are already engaged with manufacturing employers, the project will pilot the use of handheld devices to access learning in the workplace, focusing on standards for manufacturing apprenticeships. QR codes around the work environment will lead learners to bite sized pieces of learning in a Virtual Learning Environment. Safety and educational posters will be enhanced using augmented reality content to promote engagement and enrich the learning experience.