Bringing Colleges, Students, and Manufacturers Together to Meet Demand for Digital and Green Skills

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The UK has set the ambitious objective of achieving net zero by 2050. While most UK manufacturers are aware of this target, according to MakeUK’s 2021 Green Skills Survey, businesses also remark that several challenges remain and that their workforces do not yet have the skills required to become fully sustainable.

Digitalisation is also creating true disruption, with employers seeing widespread challenges in recruiting skilled staff, especially in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. Some employers advocate not only for upskilling staff, but for teaching digital skills at the primary level, much like a second language.

Seen as a key enabler of sustainability, digitalisation can lead to a more connected, agile, productive and transparent society overall. However, many businesses are currently ill-equipped to capitalise on either concept. Many lack the required vision, knowledge, skillset and experience to understand and harness these opportunities. Further and higher education institutions can support their journeys by providing people, training, and guidance.

Students themselves are showing interest in green industries and digital skills but curricula do not yet provide much of an understanding of what it means in practice. According to the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG) and Policy Connect report Level Up Industry, employers in the manufacturing industry often find that the skills taught in secondary schools, colleges, and universities do not always equip students with essential skills needed for the industry.

In order to tackle this challenge and bring colleges, students, and manufacturers closer together, HSSMI has teamed up with EKC Group, which operates six large colleges based in East Kent – Ashford College, Broadstairs College, Canterbury College, Dover Technical College, Folkestone College, and Sheppey College.


Collaboration between EKC Group and HSSMI

The EKC Group is undertaking a project focused on developing a world-leading curriculum while recognising a responsibility to support the climate change agenda. At the core of the project are three key aspects – investing in skills, innovation and infrastructure; supporting the transition to net zero; and making the most of the opportunities of Global Britain.

HSSMI has supported the EKC Group by jointly hosting a series of workshops focused on the green and digital skills needed for the workforce of tomorrow. HSSMI has also helped design and has advised on the purchasing of equipment for so-called Learning Factories (more on those below).


Learning Factories to provide new avenues for upskilling

In order to provide a more hands-on way of learning, the EKC Group will be establishing Learning Factories with state-of-the-art equipment and technologies. These Factories are anticipated to provide a real change in learning, helping college students and employers develop decarbonisation skills and model future practices. At the moment, three Learning Factories are envisioned for launch towards the end of 2022 – a Green Engineering and Design Centre based at Ashford College, as well as a Green Engineering and Mechatronic Lab and an Electric and Assisted Vehicle Centre at Canterbury College.

The Learning Factories will aim to foster a two-way dialogue between students and industry. Students will be able to test their theoretical knowledge in a practical environment and connect with employers on specific challenges to better prepare for life beyond the university walls. Employers, on the other hand, will be able to explore how the latest technologies could benefit their business, train existing employees in new and emerging skills, and liaise with students looking for their first job opportunities.

The colleges hosting the Learning Factories will benefit by being able to offer students advanced learning opportunities that go beyond textbooks and provide real world exposure. Access to the latest sustainable engineering and manufacturing technologies will help attract both students willing to learn about these technologies and experienced professors able to teach at the cutting edge of low carbon manufacturing technologies.


Workshops to identify key necessary skills

Two workshops have already taken place, bringing together industry and academia to discuss greener skills and digital skills. Speakers from Make UK and HSSMI’s own Circular Economy team have provided insights into the current overall state of sustainability and digitalisation in the UK, while representatives from The Maidstone Distillery and Brompton Bicycles have provided practical examples of how they have implemented circular economy practices or digital tools to support their growing businesses. It has been illuminating to hear from SMEs about how these skills have made a real difference to their businesses.

A third event at the moment is being planned for later in the year to coincide with the launch of the Learning Factories. For more information, watch this space or follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.


About EKC Group

EKC Group is a family of six colleges and five business units that deliver technical and vocational education across East Kent. With some 1,500 staff and more than 15,000 students spanning every age range, the Group’s ever-expanding provision equips learners of all ages with the cutting-edge skills and knowledge required to thrive in their desired industry.

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