Skills Support for the Workforce

Coventry & Warwickshire Skills Survey 2020

7th Apr 2021 Skills Support for the Workforce

Research Identifies the Skills needs of Coventry & Warwickshire businesses

A research report has been published for Coventry & Warwickshire setting out the recommendations for delivering training that meets the needs of local employers.

The research has been commissioned as part of the Skills Support for the Workforce Programme which Serco’s Employment, Skills & Enterprise business manage in Coventry & Warwickshire and which is co-financed by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the European Social Fund. The ESFA commissioned Serco to conduct research to understand employers’ skills needs created by automation and barriers to training in Coventry & Warwickshire.

The findings of the research provided recommendations for training providers and others working in the skills environment to consider as part of their future planning for skills delivery in Coventry & Warwickshire in order that it meet current employer needs.  

The key findings are:

To what extent the transport and logistics and automotive manufacturing sectors are looking at automating their processes, in particular when will the ‘tipping point’ be that would lead to significant automation of practices?

  • The implications from most literature and employer responses is that there is an important distinction to be made between the automation that could take place, and automation that is actually likely to go ahead in the next 5-10 years, considering the various barriers / disincentives to automate. A range of influencing factors are discussed across this report, and a number of these could have either an inhibiting or accelerating effect on automation plans.
  • The tipping point has already occurred in a number of (particularly large) organisations within the sectors of interest, for particular functions. But this process is by no means uniform. Indeed, some sources contend that a specific ‘tipping point’ doesn’t really exist, arguing instead that there will be incremental steps in organisations for particular functions as and when the cost benefit analysis is favourable. Other sources predict waves of progressively more extensive automation.
  • Broadly, however, it was generally acknowledged that many of the roles most ‘at risk’ from automation are to be found in the sectors of interest to this research, and that there is likely to be growing disruption across the next decade, with a potentially significant disruption in the 2030s should autonomous vehicle technology become viable.
  • That said, from the survey of CWLEP employers, automation planning is not ubiquitous and even stated plans are sometimes minimal in terms of scale / impact. The survey sample is too small to make generalisations for the sectors across the region, but it is clear that in some businesses, there has been little automation to date, and future automation is not currently in their plans.
  • The most commonly reported barrier to automation was cost. Especially for some smaller businesses, even if substantial automation were technically affordable, based upon the scale and nature of their operations, it would not generate efficiencies significant enough to justify the investment.

Which occupations are likely to be most affected and the core skill sets for these roles that are going to be most affected? What are the occupations with similar skill profiles, into which affected individuals could potentially be transferred?

  • The consensus from both primary and secondary sources seems to be that it is the relatively low-skill (levels 1 and 2) and roles which involve repetitive tasks that are most at risk from automation. Specific roles cited across primary and secondary research included assembly line workers, warehouse loading/unloading and picking, HGV / forklift drivers, and – in terms of non-physical roles – data collection and processing.
  • It should be noted that many sources – across the employer and stakeholder respondents, and in the literature - did not accept that automation would necessarily mean a reduction in workforce. Roles can be created by the introduction of automation, and if automation generates growth then this creates jobs in the wider economy.
  • However, it was clear that many roles created by automation within the sector would at least require re-skilling for existing workers to deliver such roles, and there was no consensus on whether such roles would be filled through upskilling or recruitment i.e. whether the existing staff could develop the skills required to uptake these new positions.
  • Respondent discussion of potentially transferable skills focused upon more general softer skills – e.g. communications, interpersonal skills etc. – that might be applicable to entirely different sectors. Unless they were to upskill to take on the new roles in their organisations created by automation, it was not clear what other roles affected individuals could move to within their organisation / sector.

The likely new jobs that will be created through automation or increased use of technology as well as the key skills/qualifications that will be needed, and the extent to which these skills currently exist sufficiently in the labour market with the CWLEP.

  • As discussed, several sources noted the possibility of more jobs being created in the wider economy through the growth generated by automation. Focusing on the logistics and manufacturing sectors, primary and secondary evidence was that automation will generally create roles in managing the new technology e.g. programmers, machine operatives, engineers etc., as well as requiring digital skills more generally. Requirements would vary by the technology, but some new roles will necessitate high skills levels / qualifications.
  • The impression from both respondents and sources focused upon the sectors in the UK was that there are significant skills gaps and that these advanced engineering and programming roles are hard to recruit for, highlighting a substantial opportunity for SSW.

Considering both the threats and opportunities for different roles and skills sets, what should be the focus for any re-training/upskilling initiatives, and what planning the sector is doing in this area to prepare for the impact and the scope for pro-active joint planning on re-training/career changes for affected individuals between industry and the public sector?

  • As discussed, there is a clear opportunity to support existing workers to develop the skills that will enable them to fulfil the more complex roles created by automation that may replace existing roles. That said, it was noted that many of the larger firms investing in the more substantial automation have formalised internal training programmes, and automation equipment suppliers often provide training in the use of their product as part of their offer.
  • Regardless, there was a strong emphasis upon the value of / need for greater digital capability in the workforce and candidate pool, and the need for greater partnership working with educational institutions to align their training / teaching programmes (especially around STEM, IT and engineering) with the requirements of the sector. Stakeholders welcomed the concept of greater public and private sector partnership / coordination on re-training and supporting individuals affected by automation.
  • Perhaps looking more widely than SSW support in the region, several stakeholders felt that a portion of national funding currently focused upon job creation should be targeted at training / re-training.

Rob Matts, Head of Skills Support for the Workforce said:

“This is a very important piece of research that we are pleased to have been able to deliver on behalf of the ESFA. The findings provide first-hand insights from employers that can guide the skills sector in order it meet the training needs of the diverse business community in Coventry & Warwickshire. I would like to personally thank the businesses, training providers and stakeholders that have taken time to contribute to this important piece of work."

The full report for Coventry & Warwickshire can be downloaded here

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