Technological change – our future skills challenge
Employers who are planning for the future of their workforce can be sure that keeping pace with technological change will be one of the challenges they face, says Keith Marshall, chief executive of SummitSkills.
The development in a range of environmental technologies in recent years, and the Government’s plans to encourage consumers and businesses to embrace these carbon-reduction measures, have shown how businesses need to keep abreast of technological advances in order to remain competitive and meet their customers’ needs.
At SummitSkills, the sector skills council which represents the building services engineering sector, we work with Government to help shape their policies and with training organisations to make sure the right training is available to the right people in the right places. Recently we’ve turned our attention to those renewable energy technologies that are set to play a large part in the UK’s efforts to cut its carbon emissions. On behalf of the Microgeneration Industry Climate Group run by DECC, we carried out an audit to identify exactly which environmental technologies are being taught in courses across the UK at higher education (HE) institutions offering building services engineering courses, or other courses with relevant ‘sustainability’ subject matter. We found that teaching content is not consistent, with two thirds of courses teaching about heat pumps, solar PV, solar water and heating and micro wind energy but fewer than half the courses teaching about fuel cells, ‘grey water’ or anaerobic digestion. We think more needs to be done to create consistency in course content across HE institutions, which should go some way to avoiding too tight a focus on a limited number of technologies in future. Recent events in the solar PV industry in particular have highlighted the danger of such a dependance, with the dramatic reduction in the Government’s Feed-in Tariff badly hitting some businesses which had focused on the increasing demand for solar PV technology to sustain their growth.
There are also geographical differences that we think need addressing, with our research finding that the greatest range of technology tuition on offer to students is in the south west, London, the east midlands, and Scotland. Students should have the choice to learn about the full range of renewable options, irrespective of where they live. We identified, too, that HE institutions could help employers and students by making more information about content available, helping to differentiate between courses and focus employers’ resources on developing in their workforce the particular skills they will need for a successful future. We will continue to work with the Government and training providers to make sure that employers have access to the right training at the right time for the right people.