If you lay all those discussing skills end to end …

1 min read

Skills is the Aunt Sally of the industry, at least at the moment, and there’s a long queue of people waiting to contribute their twopenn’orth to the debate.

Much of this is frustration; people see the skills issue, recognise its importance and want solutions to be rolled out – and they want those solutions to be as instant as possible. The problem is that solutions are almost generational in their nature; things won’t change overnight. But that shouldn’t stop the efforts.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, minister for IP and co-chair of the Electronic Systems Community (ESCO), reaffirmed the Government’s three priorities when it came to the electronics industry to those attending a recent dinner in London. “We are supporting investment,” she claimed, “promoting the fact that the UK has leading edge disruptive and emerging technologies and making the UK the best place in the world to invest and start a business. But there are plenty of challenges.”

Amongst those challenges, she noted, are recruitment into the profession, along with retaining engineers and retraining them. “We are working with the industry to help with these issues,” she added.

Brian Holliday, ESCO co-chair and divisional director with Siemens Industrial Automation, responded: “We are delighted to be in conversation with the Government about skills.”

The discussion that followed the addresses would have left the Baroness in no doubt that skills remains a contentious issue. Contributors pointed out that efforts to boost the profile of technology in general need to start at an early age in schools and that wasn’t happening. Other pointed to such initiatives as the UK Electronics Skills Foundation, which now has many more than 200 students under its wings. And apprenticeships were also discussed. Holliday welcomed the fact that the apprenticeship budget had been protected ‘in real terms’ in the recent Spending Review.

There was also a lively exchange of views about the effect of student loans on potential entrepreneurs. Picking up on an earlier discussion about technology funding moving from its current grant basis to one based on loans and equity, some attendees wondered whether those fresh out of university with a good idea could handle the additional burden and the effect this would have on innovation.

George Bernard Shaw once said that if you laid all the economists end to end, they’d never reach a conclusion. Skills is such a big issue that you feel the same thing applies.