The shape of skills to come

The pandemic has highlighted what many of us already knew: that the skills required to keep our world functioning in future are going to be very different to the traditional trades and specialisms of the past. For example, with Renewable Energy and Electric Vehicles high on the government’s agenda, there is an immediate requirement for trainees to develop knowledge and relevant skills in these areas.

The need to identify and fill the skills gap in industry is being addressed at many levels. At national level, for example, the UK government is establishing a number of high-quality institutes of technology (IoTs). These are a collaboration between employers, Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) providers. Their task is to bridge the gap between education and industry and deliver STEM subjects (at levels 4 and 5), in order to produce a highly skilled workforce with a clear route to technical employment. In Scotland, the Advanced Manufacturing Challenge Fund – jointly overseen by Scottish Enterprise, ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) and Scottish Government – is intended to support Scottish SMEs in making a long-term transformational change through upskilling and reskilling the workforce.

Private companies, including Festo, have also taken action to nurture a workforce equipped with the skills they need to flourish in the future. As an OEM manufacturer ourselves, we are very aware of the need for a broad skills set, which not only embraces technical understanding but also includes other life skills. Through our training company Festo Didactic, we work as a partner / supplier with educational establishments and large companies that do a lot of in-house training to develop a “fit for purpose” package of training hardware, learning materials and support.

Our ultimate aim is to educate the workforce in Industry 4.0 and digitalisation. To achieve this goal, it is vital that students have a thorough understanding of the all the technologies and progress through the disciplines in a systematic and logical way. This starts with the technology of mechatronics (fluid power and PLCs), moving into the application of mechatronics (modular production systems and robotics), to Process Automation and finally Industry 4.0 (CP systems in the Cyber Physical Factory).

Time for ‘T’

Essentially, workers today need to develop T-shaped profiles. This means acquiring a broad knowledge base. Technical skills will continue to be important, but they need to be complemented by soft skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and leadership. Festo Didactic uses interactive training and integrative learning systems to engage trainees and help them develop these skills. Hands-on experimentation on modern training systems combines eLearning, simulation tools and virtual and augmented reality to adapt to different learning contexts and styles.

For example, we have recently introduced learning stations to give practical experience in electrical skills that can be applied in wind and solar power generation, power grid modernisation and smart grid, energy storage and the nascent ELV charging network, as well as in electric drives and industrial controls. Complementing the hardware; Festo-LX is our online software package, which captures all the learning materials and enables the end user to customise their own training. Our GB Didactic Services support team is also on hand to continue supporting customers in developing and delivering the training required.

Recent example

Barking and Dagenham College is one of the educational establishments to partner with Festo Didactic. It’s Institute of Technology (IoT) received a comprehensive training proposition covering Advanced Manufacturing and Renewable Energy, which included the technology of mechatronics (pneumatics, hydraulics, PLCs) and its application (robotics, modular production systems, process automation), Industry 4.0 (Cyber Physical factory) and renewable energy technologies (solar, wind, electrical vehicles). The physical systems are supported by a comprehensive and detailed on-going training program on the use of the equipment and related technologies that takes into account the requirements of the curriculum and the needs of local industries in terms of reskilling and upskilling.