Composites skills for the workforce of the future
By Barry Copping
Posted 23 July 2012
Intensive hands-on courses are aimed at practitioners and technicians
Tom Preece, business manager at the Composites Skills Alliance, reports on work to boost skills and competence in the UK composites sector.
When the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills published its UK Composites Strategy back in 2009, the report highlighted how the commercial opportunities offered by the emerging composites industry were at risk from a number of barriers to market.
Among the barriers set out in the document was a shortage of the necessary skills at nearly every level of the industry. This was attributed to two main factors: difficulty in identifying and accessing training, and a general lack of qualifications and courses relating specifically to the composites industry.
In order to address these challenges, it was acknowledged that skills development should focus on a coordinated, employer-driven approach that would address the industry's immediate needs for re-skilling and up-skilling, and promote consistent standards of training delivery.
In early 2011, Semta, the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies, and the National Skills Academy Process Industries formed the Composites Skills Alliance to implement this strategy.
The Alliance brings together employers and training providers with the aim of developing quality-assured composites training. This will enable employers to create skilled workforces equipped with the techniques and processes required to produce high-value goods at greater volumes to a consistent standard.
Mode of operation
Employer input comes from a high-level cross-sector employer steering group drawn from the aerospace, automotive, construction, marine, wind energy, global prime manufacturing and supply chain sectors. The group advises the Alliance on industry priorities and offers valuable feedback on the quality and relevance of our product offerings. Representatives from organisations including Airbus, Composites UK, National Composites Centre, Rolls Royce and Scott Bader sit on the steering group which regularly consults with the Alliance.
Course development and delivery are undertaken in conjunction with our growing network of accredited training providers. These include further and higher education institutions, private training providers and employer training organisations.
In order to meet the industry requirement of consistent, high-quality training, all accredited training providers adhere to a rigorous training delivery quality system (TDQS). Based on existing Academy best practice, TDQS requires training providers to demonstrate that their facilities and personnel meet generic standards of expertise in composites and educational competence, as well as the specific demands of individual course content.
Progress so far
Since the launch of our first Awareness of Composites courses some six months ago, over 80 learners have engaged directly with the Composites Skills Alliance.
Participants on these courses are drawn from functions across businesses. They typically share a need to develop a better understanding of what composites are, and the factors to be aware of when working with or around them.
To date, most delegates have come from composites businesses. However, we expect that as more of these courses are offered, demand will increase from non-composites companies operating in related sectors, such as polymers and resins, as well as companies that are diversifying into the sector.
In response to the skills challenges identified at other levels of the industry, in September we will deliver new offerings such as an Introduction to Composites Materials and Processes course. This is aimed both at those starting their development as composites practitioners and at experienced personnel seeking a wider composites grounding. The format is a one-day workshop building on some of the topics introduced in the Awareness of Composites course.
We have also developed a programme of intensive hands-on courses aimed at practitioners and technicians. These will teach skills including wet lay-up, prepreg, resin flow infusion, resin transfer moulding, defects & testing and repair.
Alongside this, the Alliance is delivering a graduate development course aimed at newly appointed engineers entering the field of composite materials technology. This course will combine practical and theoretical modules in the fundamentals of materials, manufacturing and design & stress analysis.
The industry has responded positively to the Alliance’s activities. In particular, the model of close collaboration between employers and training providers has been widely praised. Of course we recognise that the Alliance is still in its early stages. But with the continued backing of our stakeholders, we are confident that the Alliance will evolve in line with the composites industry to ensure that our sector has the skilled workforce it needs for future growth.
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