Digital skills

The rapidly expanding demand for digital skills coupled with Industry 4.0 will drive the need for digitally skilled entrants and upskilling of the existing workforce. Digital in its fullest sense (including data analysis, augmented reality, and robotics/process automation) is a key enabling technology for the chemical sector. For example, Accenture has said “95% of chemical companies driving a digital strategy have seen tangible financial value of utilizing digital in their operation”.

Emotional intelligence

The handling of business relationships, both internal within organisations and external with stakeholders is as important as technological development. Skills at communicating the case for positions held, and especially listening to others including stakeholders have risen to the top of the leadership agenda in all organisations. They are also important skills in all levels of businesses. Emotional intelligence of our people including empathy, self-awareness and general social skills are critical to our offering and to our growth.

Investing in apprenticeships

The Government’s Industrial Strategy White Paper has committed to providing a technical educational system that rivals the best in the world. The Chemistry Council strongly supports this and believes that at apprenticeship level we could learn much from Germany. Their dual vocational training programme gives students theoretical education in the classroom, coupled with real-world experience on the factory floor. On seeing this system in action earlier this year, the US Government doubled federal spending on apprenticeship programmes to $200 million. The institutes that Germany has set up to educate its apprentices are being used increasingly to retrain older workers and keep their minds fresh.

The Industrial Strategy technical education policy includes the introduction of T levels and a series of apprenticeship reforms. If the industry is to benefit from these policies, they need to be fit for purpose with wider flexibilities than currently available. In the UK the chemicals sector has engaged in recruiting and training apprentices, and is now working through the reforms.

Early indications from the recent Science Industry Partnership Apprenticeship survey are that the Process Industries are only recovering less than 14% of the available levy tax. Employers want to see a wider range of process industries appropriate Standards, more flexibility with respect to upskilling, and increased local training provision. Going forwards it is also key that process industry standards continue to be funded at realistic levels.

Brexit and skills

Leaving the European Union presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the UK’s skills landscape.

The EU’s Horizon 2020 programme plans to invest £77 billion between 2014 and 2020. It is one of the largest public Research & Development (R&D) funding programmes in the world, accounting for 8% of the EU budget. The Government has said it wants to fully associate with it after we leave the EU.

Some of the specialist skills required are not yet available in the UK. We need to achieve as near as practically possible, freedom of movement for certain jobs within the overall workforce. Getting the best can help secure employment for the rest. Allowing chemical businesses to bring in specialist contractor teams for a limited period to undertake essential maintenance and overhaul activity in shutdown and turnaround situations is essential. As with Horizon 2020, agreeing to scientists who are employees of companies moving freely between the EU and UK is critical to our sector. Chemical businesses need scientists and engineers. Movement of scientific and engineering skills around companies delivers growth. We also want to ensure multi-national companies can move their staff – particularly graduate and management trainees – between different countries to gain experience and develop skills. EU exit should not hinder development experience and global mobility. It is important we achieve this so we can compete on a European and global stage.

Securing our current and future workforce

The UK has an impressive network of scientific institutions, producing a strong pipeline of young professionals. The Northern Powerhouse alone is home to 32 higher education institutions, educating 522,000 students. We have high ranking universities across the country teaching chemistry. It is important that industry and academia continue to work closely together to ensure a pipeline of qualified scientists and engineers are available to work in or alongside industry.

These academic institutions are supported by a variety of industrial and scientific institutions working at different stages along the pipeline to encourage children, students, and young professionals into industry.

These industry institutions include:

  • The Children Challenging Industry Programme, which works in schools to encourage young people to consider careers in science and industry.
  • RSC, which sets professional standards and runs professional development programmes for chemists.
  • SCI, which works at the interface of academia and industry and runs a variety of programmes to support the recruitment of scientists and engineers into industry and builds entrepreneurial skills.
  • Cogent, which sets the gold standard for manufacturing through its impressive apprenticeship scheme.
  • IChemE, which sets professional standards and runs development programmes for chemical engineers.
  • CATCH, which works with industry, schools, young people and wider stakeholders to develop a pipeline of young people ready for a career in the chemical industry through development of industry-led programmes.

It is critical that these institutions are supported to maintain a strong pipeline of scientists and engineers talent to industry. With a significant amount of manufacturing jobs in the regions ensuring a skilled workforce in place for future manufacturing is critical. Many companies already support a range of skills programmes, but increased support is needed to accelerate programmes and secure a pipeline of skilled workers for the future. This will require the utilisation of regional facilities such as CATCH.

Summary of skills priorities

  • Engaging with wider society and school children in particular to promote the industry through programmes such as Children Challenging Industry and the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre. Research has shown that we need to engage with young people by Year 9 if we are to inspire them to seek careers in our sector.
  • Working with Government and other organisations, including Science Industry Partnership / Life Sciences and Industrial Sciences Trailblazer, to ensure the apprenticeship levy delivers for our sector.
  • Addressing the specific need for more professionally accredited technicians and apprentices through an employer-owned, demand-led system facilitated by the Science Industry Partnership.
  • Promoting training and qualifications that meet robust and professionally verified standards including the ‘Cogent gold standard’ as a brand for excellence in chemical industry skills
  • Reinforcing and strengthening improvements in higher level graduate, masters and postgraduate level training by working closely with the Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Royal Society of Chemistry to deliver this and accredit qualifications.
  •  Continuing to lobby for freedom of movement and hence access to the specialist skills the sector needs to deliver its strategy and remain globally competitive.
  •  Encouraging take-up of SCI’s Bright SCIdea Entrepreneurs Challenge Programme.
  • Defining our Emotional Intelligence requirements.
  •  Accelerating the Apprenticeship Programmes.
  • Utilising the CATCH facilities in Yorkshire and Humber to ensure new process operators are industry ready.
  • Linking to the existing innovation infrastructure to support regional innovation.

The chemical and chemistry–using industries are highly regulated and rightly so – helping to give confidence to employees, local communities and consumers. Focusing on the long-term success of the industry, the Chemistry Council will address key regulatory levers that either help or hinder that long-term growth, working in particular with relevant trade associations to create a regulatory climate and culture that strengthens international competitiveness and growth and drives social and environmental progress.