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This report was published at a launch event organised by and held at the Department of Trade and Industry in London on Weds 8 th March 2006. One of the task groups within the team looked at the issue of ‘people and skills’. The work of this task group covered the recruitment and education of new entrants to the industry and the training of the existing workforce. It published its own report, available on the web site www.matUK .co.uk, but its recommendations are also included in the full report, and are extracted and reproduced here.

Aims and objectives of the Materials IGT

Recognising the importance of materials against a background of climate change, energy pressures, resource needs and increasing global competitiveness - and the need to assess the implications of these factors for the UK materials sectors - the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry approved the creation of the Materials Innovation and Growth Team (Materials IGT) in October 2004.

The Materials IGT began its formal work in January 2005. The purpose was to propose a strategy to optimise the benefits that materials technology can bring to the UK. In particular, the terms of reference were:

  • Look ahead at 5, 10 and 20-year horizons and define what the key materials requirements will be and how these compare with current materials.
  • Look at likely future Government policy approaches - for example, to environmental challenges - and how the industry can respond.
  • Consider what constitutes best practice in all aspects of the business process, including R&D, knowledge transfer, design, efficient use of resources, waste minimisation and recovery/recycling, and investigate how it could be promulgated in the UK.
  • Consider the policy implications for Government, and address the effects that current and future national and European legislation -on emissions, recycling, sustainable production, for example - might have on the materials sector.

The Materials IGT's methodology involved establishing Task Groups to engage all interested stakeholders through a series of workshops, meetings and interaction electronically through a website. In addition, there was specific activity on materials in energy, construction, sustainable production and consumption, the contribution of minerals and the academic community as well as some formal stakeholder surveys. In all, some 650 companies, organisations5 or individuals contributed to the work of the Materials IGT and its Task Groups.

Recommendations relating to people and skills

  1. Businesses that can meet growing expectations of higher environmental and ethical standards and that develop ‘material light’ goods and services will be best placed to enhance their competitiveness. There is a need for better understanding of the impact of materials and products throughout their life cycle through dialogue to enable joined up thinking between material producers and users. The materials design and user community should make greater use of life-cycle and design-for-life concepts, supported by access to data for materials with a sustainable production and consumption agenda. This should be backed up with specific training where it is needed.
  2. Harnessing the pull of design with the technology push of materials is important for rapid innovation in the UK. There should be greater interaction between materials scientists and engineers, production engineering and the design community to disseminate knowledge and information on the capabilities of materials.
  3. In general, the demands made on the technical community are changing in response to the need to be able to monitor, assess and improve environmental performance across the life cycle. Materials specialists need to have the skills needed to adopt best practice in materials selection, production, use and reuse, for example, through Environmental Management Systems, performance monitoring, product labelling and supply chain management.
  4. It is as important to implement best practice in education and training as it is in business processes, manufacturing and research.
  5. There is a need to co-ordinate new courses for undergraduate and masters degrees that meet the needs of businesses in the UK for materials knowledge. For example, there should be foundation degrees that allow specialisation to happen as late as possible. Graduates should also have access to 'conversion' courses to enable them to move into other careers where there are skills shortages. Specifically, changes in the energy markets in the UK over the past 30 years, particularly the lack of investment in cleaner coal and new nuclear plant, mean that the country has lost much of its technical expertise in materials relevant to important areas of energy technology. The UK should set out to recover, capture and develop the knowledge base of high integrity structural materials for future power generation.
  6. Effective global marketing of UK based materials education courses is important to strengthen the present supply chain for people and skills and to enable strategic international alliances.
  7. There is a lack of perception of "materials" among the wider community in its modern sense. This is a constraint to recruitment of qualified young people. Those with an interest in science tend to focus on the pure sciences and not their application to materials until late in the current curricula. There should be specific materials activity to enhance the appreciation of materials at school level by influencing curriculum changes to promote teaching of science as early as possible, using 'materials' to illustrate what science can do.Additionally, the principles of sustainable production and consumption (and the role of materials technology within this) should be promoted. There is also a need to find ways to increase the number and quality of teachers who can develop and deliver materials related subjects in schools. [The people and skills task group also propose that the schools ‘work experience’ be developed along the lines of that used in Singapore.]
  8. There should be a co-ordinated approach to providing up to date information for young people on the many careers in the materials sector. When reaching out to this audience, it is important to reinforce the connections between materials, the environment and sustainable development, issues that are of particular interest to young people.
  9. As well as recruiting young people and giving them the right skills, it is important to develop a continuous career path in materials. The materials community should work with Manufacturing Skills Academy and the Sector Skills Councils to fill gaps in the provision of short, technology based training courses.

People and skills action plan

  • People and Skills Working Group established and meets for first time in April 2006 to start defining a two year programme of work to address the IGT recommendations.
  • Work to ensure Manufacturing Skills Academy delivers appropriate vocational training to fill the gaps for the materials industry. Initial contact with SEMTA by end of June 2006.
  • Initiate providing knowledge of and access to education and training courses relevant to the broad range of skills required for the production, processing, safe use, re-use and recycling of materials via KTN nodes by end of June and have service fully operational by end of December 2006.
  • Develop mechanism by end of December 2006 for rapid transformation of graduates or final year students into specialised areas required to fill skills gaps - to facilitate this appropriate foundation degree courses may need to be designed.
  • Research and deliver longer term work experience projects for schools to stimulate and promote a greater understanding of the materials industry including the challenges and opportunities offered.

J R Wilcox - 14/03/06

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