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BAE Systems has called for a concerted, co-ordinated effort by industry, government and the education sector to ensure the UK can fully benefit from the digital revolution and Industry 4.0.

At an event at the BAE Systems’ Academy for Skills and Knowledge in Samlesbury, Nigel Whitehead, the company’s Chief Technology Officer, stated that the defence, aerospace, engineering and manufacturing sectors need to work together and prioritise investment in digital and ‘soft skills,’ upskilling, retraining and supporting supply chains and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME), to respond to the expected levels of complexity in industrial and business systems and unprecedented demand from technologies such as artificial intelligence.

He also suggested that businesses in these sectors need to create a more diverse, inclusive and flexible workplace, by reflecting different working preferences and lifestyles. To help address the UK’s shortage of engineers, he called for a nationwide programme of activity to improve the perception of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and careers, and for the engineering industry to consider recruiting more people with highly applicable skills that traditionally are more associated with arts subjects, such as creativity and problem solving.

BAE Systems’ white paper ‘Future Skills for our UK Business’ sets out six guiding principles for the development of skills in the UK, in an environment of rapid technological change and fierce global competition:

1.Create a more diverse, inclusive and flexible workplace for the employees of tomorrow; the UK must attract and retain top-class talent;
2. Commit to retraining and upskilling; it is vital for innovation and growth that employees continue to learn throughout their careers;
3. Prioritise investment in digital, soft and behavioural skills; to give employees the broad range of technical and people skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace;
4. Continue to support suppliers and the SME community so that they can develop skills in the digitally-enabled workplace; successful and innovative partners help the UK economy thrive;
5. Continue to improve the perception of STEM subjects and careers; encouraging graduates and young people into a dynamic and rewarding industry;
6. Continue to champion vocational training; working with government to ensure training is funded and prioritised.

“I am personally really excited by the opportunities in today’s highly connected world and what the future will bring, but we cannot be complacent. By taking tangible action now and capitalising on the ambition of young people, coupled with the UK’s traditions and advantages – education, strong legal frameworks, technical innovations and leadership – we can exploit the digital revolution and compete on the world stage,” Mr Whitehead commented.

Joining him at the event, Dr Hayaatun Sillem, Chief Executive of the Royal Academy of Engineering, added “Failure to successfully prepare for the impact of technological disruption means we will put at risk our ability to benefit from the opportunities created by digital transformation and other waves of technological change.”

BAE Systems invests £90 million (€100 million) annually in skills in the UK, providing world-class training facilities for its employees and education to ensure its current and future workforce are trained to the highest standards. At any given time, there are approximately 2,500 apprentices and graduates in training across its UK business.

Industry 4.0 is effectively the fourth industrial revolution, bringing new levels of organisation and control across the entire value chain and throughout the product life cycle. (Photo: International Electrotechnical Commission)

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