University of Warwick’s WMG builds UK’s skills base to boost manufacturing

Industry-focused offshoot with Jaguar Land Rover link offers teaching from school to manager level

August 20, 2015
Production line employees working on Range Rover
Source: Getty
Upskilling: JLR’s academy at WMG is about helping staff move up the ranks

When the coalition government aimed to push apprenticeships up the public agenda, Lord Bhattacharyya, chairman and founder of WMG at the University of Warwick, hoped that it would change what he sees as a sometimes negative attitude in the UK towards highly skilled professions. Lord Bhattacharyya believes that this mentality has allowed industries to strengthen in other countries and weaken in the UK. Despite signs that the mindset in the UK is beginning to change, he believes that there is still a long way to go.

WMG, formerly known as Warwick Manufacturing Group, is aiming to be part of the change. A number of recent developments are aimed at working with businesses to develop the UK’s skills base – to the benefit of the economy, Lord Bhattacharyya believes.

“In Britain today, we still have a huge shortage of skills base in the manufacturing industry,” the Labour peer told Times Higher Education. “You want to increase the number of manufacturing companies in the UK, but one of the biggest barriers to that is getting the skills base.

“You have countries like Japan that train their employees themselves. In this country, we’re reducing the further education colleges’ staff – places where this training takes place.”

The WMG Academy for Young Engineers, a university technical college, was opened in September last year, aiming to “turn the traditional approach to education on its head by putting real, business-focused, practical problems and challenges at the centre of the curriculum”, says the academy’s website.

WMG’s ever-strengthening relationship with Jaguar Land Rover, based in Coventry, is another key element in its drive to develop skills. Two years ago, WMG announced an agreement to teach up to 600 JLR staff to degree level in product engineering and manufacturing engineering.

Last month, the first master’s student on the Technical Accreditation Scheme – set up in 2010 by Warwick and JLR to deliver skills development in specific key technical disciplines – graduated and JLR staff passed 200,000 hours of study on the programme.

“When I was involved in looking at JLR and how they grow the company I knew, fundamentally, [that] they had the intellectual base but there was a lack of skill base,” said Lord Bhattacharyya. “The next question is, who’s going to train them, who’s going to give them the qualifications?

“I said to them, ‘we’ll develop a programme for you to do a degree of the same level of any Warwick qualification, in exactly the same way, but we’ll do it while you’re working’. I don’t want them to have a second-class qualification, I want exactly the same qualification as the engineers from this university or any university will get. We have a team of people developing curricula.

“Now we’ve taken it further, we’ve said to all JLR managers that they can now register for a degree. So anyone who doesn’t have one can. Then, we said to all people who have degrees [that] they can register for a master’s. A few of them have even registered for doctorates. I really want a totally symbiotic relationship between Warwick WMG and the sector [manufacturing industry].”

The relationship has developed so far that JLR recently set up the Jaguar Learning Academy, based at WMG, to train and upskill its employees so that they can migrate up the chain in the company.

Lord Bhattacharyya believes that this is another important rung on the ladder for improving the UK’s manufacturing skills base.

“I wanted to make sure [courses were] available to any new apprentice, any new graduate and any youngsters that come to the company,” he said. “There’s a huge infrastructure operating [at WMG]. Not just for JLR, although it is the lead. We also have Network Rail, Rolls-Royce and various other [companies] sending their people in for these courses.”

Lord Bhattacharyya said that the JLR partnership has ambitious targets including training every single apprentice that comes through the company and that universities have a responsibility to help improve the UK’s technical skills.

“They’re now taking 600 apprenticeships each year. They’re taking 700 undergraduates this year, and on top of that they’ve got 2,000 to 3,000 people coming into the company as managers. So it’s a huge programme,” he said. “That is why we had to set up the proper infrastructure for this to happen, not in a random manner.”

And Lord Bhattacharyya emphasised the role of businesses and universities working together on funding.

“I didn’t go to the government for money,” he continued. “I said to the companies: ‘you need the skills base, and if you want it and the government isn’t providing, let’s work jointly together and provide it. If not, they [businesses] will go abroad. If [universities] don’t motivate the sector, where are we going to get the skills base?”

In numbers

200,000 – hours of study clocked up by students on WMG-Jaguar Land Rover technical skills course

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Print headline: Production line in technical skills keeps industry strong

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