Electronics Technology Skills: North Lancashire

Fuel Costs: Rural Households and Communities – in Westminster Hall at 3:59 pm on 29 March 2023.

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Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale 3:59, 29 March 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered electricity technology skills in North Lancashire.

I rise to speak about electronics skills in my constituency of Morecambe and Lunesdale, which is an exciting place to be at this time, especially since I secured the funding for Eden Project North, and nearly £3 million with the Friends of the Winter Garden Theatre, which is straight across the road. Morecambe is definitely turning the corner, and we are now regenerating our fortunes, but we are also hiding another gem in my constituency: our high-tech workforce.

Today I want to speak about electronics technology businesses in my constituency and the workforce skills they need to thrive. I have spoken with my businesses in my community, and they have highlighted the need to give graduates in a lot of degree-level curriculum areas the practical electronics experience to get them work-ready. They feel that these practical skills should be part of those qualifications, so that skills such as soldering and hands-on fault finding on a circuit board are already mastered. These skills are crucial to developers and engineers, as they form the basis for all problem solving needed for the role.

Those businesses see IPC-A-610, IPC J-STD or IPC-7711—standards certified by the Institute for Printed Circuits—as representing a good skills basis that should be incorporated into qualifications. There is also a shortage of radio frequency/analogue electronic skills. Graduates do not have experience in this area, and engineers with these skills are usually not readily available, so graduates need significant training in them for companies to employ them. Another area where skills can be lacking is software development. Proficient use of C and C++ is vital, but is often not included.

In the face of this skills gap, electronics businesses in my constituency have formed what they have called “electech clusters”. They have decided to come together as a group of businesses with the same skills and expansion needs to try to address these gaps and grow the whole sector locally. The electech skills pledge is particularly helpful, as it ensures that electech businesses are providing feedback and directly interfacing with academic institutes to ensure that vital real-world skills are understood and can be used to shape the curriculum.

Forsberg, a company in my constituency, provides industrial projects to Lancaster University to help to ensure contextual learning, and also works to identify students who could be future employees, giving them vital work and experience during their degrees so that they are ready to join the workforce as soon as they graduate. This has been particularly successful at Lancaster and Morecambe College, which is extremely employer-focused and ensures that its courses reflect the needs in the labour market. This is not only good for employers, but good for students, whose qualifications give them invaluable skills that enable them to go straight into the workforce.

Lancaster and Morecambe College, headed by Wes Johnson, to whom I extend an open invitation to come and visit us, Minister—I know we have talked about this—is working closely with the electech innovation cluster to address the skills needs and progression opportunities with the world-beating electronics businesses in the LA postcode. Through extensive employer engagement, including active participation in the recent catalyst project, the college has, over the last academic year, co-created a brand-new electech innovation lab—which I visited only a couple of weeks ago on my regular visit to the college—to broaden the learning experiences of our engineering students going into electronics, robotics and green-collar jobs.

This work has generated significant new interest among students in electronics and local career opportunities, with a particularly focus on the electech businesses. The college electech provision has benefited from the time and expertise of local business leaders, as well as the donation of specialist resources and equipment from local companies to enhance the learning experience and the skills development that is required. The innovation cluster has developed and now runs business-led boot camps to directly provide the skills these businesses need. This is already having a positive impact, as graduates using the course, in addition to their university education, move on to full-time jobs with businesses in the cluster after university.

North Lancashire will soon be an exciting place for electronics technology, as the National Cyber Force moves up to Samlesbury, next to where BAE Systems is already based. We see this as an opportunity to put Lancashire on the map as a hub for electronics, and somewhere that can attract graduates from all over the country. We are giving our young people a reason to stay in Lancashire instead of moving away. All the work I have done so far with companies as a Member of Parliament to get investment in projects locally is so that our young people have the opportunity to stay in the area and do not feel that they have to move away to get a good skilled job.

We have a real opportunity with the National Cyber Force to build on the work that our education institutions are already doing and to use the expertise it will bring to the area to enhance our local high-tech businesses, but only if we do this right. It would be great if the Government could work with local businesses, colleges and universities on the recruitment process for the new centre to draw talent to the area not just for the National Cyber Force centre, but to sell the area as an area of excellence for electronics.

In conclusion, I would like to see more practical skills being implemented into electronics qualifications. My area has so many job opportunities in this sector that it would benefit the young person, the business and the local economy if practical workplace skills were being taught as part of the curriculum. I congratulate Lancaster and Morecambe College on its forward thinking on the issue, and I ask the Minister to use its business-led model as an example of best practice in how education can shape business growth in an area. I would like to see more Government incentives to businesses to train new staff in this discipline, and I would like to know what the Government can do to help encourage and promote electronics as a career and ensure that more people are interested in going into this workforce. Again, I extend an invitation to my hon. Friend the Minister to visit us at Morecambe at his convenience.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Education) 4:06, 29 March 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under you, Mr Hollobone, and I extend special congratulations to my hon. Friend—a real friend—David Morris on securing the debate. He is a champion of skills. He has spoken about electronic skills needs in his constituency and the work going on to tackle it, such as the electech clusters established by businesses in the area. I congratulate him on securing £50 million for Eden Project Morecambe in the second round of the UK Government’s levelling-up fund. In all my years as an MP, I do not think I have been to a parliamentary event without him campaigning for that project. He is an extraordinary campaigner and his constituents are lucky to have him. He has worked for five years to secure the funding, which will be transformative. Importantly, it will also boost skills hugely in the region, especially construction skills and other related areas, so he deserves great credit for that success.

My hon. Friend knows that technological change and the future economic direction of the country means that, as he has highlighted, demand for STEM skills—science, technology, engineering and maths—such as electronics, in the economy is growing. STEM will be at the heart of the UK’s transition to a net zero economy. That is not just about saying that we need to get to net zero; it is because many of the skills of the future will be green skills. Our aim in the net zero strategy is to support 440,000 green jobs across green industries in 2030. To meet STEM skill needs, we know that intervention is needed at every stage of the pipeline, so that we can ensure that individuals can climb the skills ladder of opportunity by having access to high-quality STEM education and training. Of course, we must take action to expand access to these opportunities. Key to that is ensuring that we get students into STEM across all stages, right from early years to higher education. Whenever I visit schools or colleges around the country, I always ask and encourage people to go into STEM subjects. It is important for them and it is important for our country—it is the future.

It is worth highlighting that in schools we have increased spending on maths, digital and technical education to try to increase the uptake of better teaching of STEM subjects. We have the Stimulating Physics Network and science learning partnerships to help improve teaching quality, and the STEM ambassadors programme. Through activities in schools and colleges, they raise awareness of the diverse range of STEM careers. That is working: A-level entries for maths and sciences are increasing. There were 269,525 total STEM A-level entries in 2021-22, a figure that has increased year on year since 2015. In order to meet the skills needs of our country and to ensure that people can have high-quality education and training that addresses skills gaps and boosts productivity, we will invest an additional £3.8 billion in further education and skills over this Parliament.

Knowing my background, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale would expect me to say that apprenticeships are central to our plans. We have transformed apprenticeships, driving up quality and making them more flexible so they better meet the needs of employers and individuals wanting to progress to successful STEM careers. We have had more than 5.3 million starts since 2010; I looked up the figures for his constituency and there have been close to 11,000 since 2010. That is 10,900 apprentices in his constituency, most of whom have had their lives transformed and who will have developed the skills they need in Morecambe and Lunesdale. Over 90% of the apprentices who complete get good jobs, usually in the companies that have trained them, or they go on to additional education. That is an achievement in itself.

My hon. Friend asked what we are doing for STEM. We have more than 650 apprenticeship standards in general, which replace the old frameworks. They aim to ensure that we have high-quality apprenticeship qualifications and that we build the prestige of apprenticeships so that it is the same as that of academic qualifications. He will be pleased to know that more than 350 of those apprenticeship standards are in STEM, including many opportunities in electronics, such as level 3 electrical, electronic product service installation, engineer level 6 and electronic technical support engineer.

By chance, yesterday I met a great man called Ray Olive. My hon. Friend might know him; he is from Morecambe and is chairman of the national T-level ambassador network. He is promoting T-levels across the country as well as in Morecambe. I had not realised that he was from Morecambe, but I told him about the debate and said that we were talking about skills. He was very interested to hear what we would have to say. Just so my hon. Friend knows, we will invest up to £500 million a year in T-levels once they are fully rolled out. They will boost access to high-quality technical education for thousands of young people. We have 11 T-levels available in STEM subjects; T-levels in engineering, manufacturing and construction will give the students the core knowledge and skills they need to enter a range of careers in the electronics sector.

My hon. Friend mentioned his Lancaster and Morecambe College; I would love to visit. I have been to Morecambe and it is such a beautiful place. I was not there for work, I was there for my holiday in that neck of the woods, and it is one of the most beautiful parts of England. He has a fantastic college, clearly. It had a “good” Ofsted rating in 2020 and will deliver T-levels that include technologies in the electric/electronic fields. It is doing a lot of work that is very important on disadvantage; it has developed a schools and community engagement programme from years 7 to 13, with a wide range of activities. That creates a pipeline that helps disadvantaged young people and encourages them to do the subjects that my hon. Friend is rightly keen on.

I looked up the figures, and I am pleased that Lancaster and Morecambe College has received a total of £1.5 million since 2020 through the Department for Education capital transformation fund, and £484,000 in 2021-22 and £193,000 in 2022-23 through the skills development fund. I will also talk about the Lancaster and Morecambe energy hub that my hon. Friend mentioned. I am glad the Government have invested in this college, which is clearly a key centre for promoting skills in his constituency and the surrounding areas.

I want to mention higher technical qualifications: level 4 and level 5. At the moment in our country, there are very low numbers of level 4 and 5 qualifications—just 4% of under-25s in England have a level 4 or 5 qualification, while just 10% of adults in general have them. With more and more employers asking for these qualifications, we have introduced higher technical qualifications—the next stage up from T-levels—which are employer-designed and approved, just like T-levels and apprenticeships, to deliver the skills employers need.

In essence, to ensure that the UK retains its position as a world-leading economy, we need to ensure that through places such as Morecambe and Lunesdale—a skills centre for my hon. Friend’s region in the United Kingdom—people of all ages can develop the skills the country and businesses need and climb the ladder of opportunity. We are therefore investing more in adult education and skills, underlining our commitment to ensure that adults at any age can upskill to reach their potential.

What does free courses for jobs mean? We are giving access, free of charge, to high-value level 3 qualifications in priority areas such as engineering, building and construction and manufacturing. There were 35,000 enrolments reported between the launch in April 2021 and January 2023. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that level 3 electrical installation and engineering courses are offered by providers that serve areas such as Lancaster and Morecambe College.

We have introduced a scale of quality qualifications, including bootcamps, which, again, are free. Everyone who goes on these flexible courses, which last up to 16 weeks, is guaranteed a job interview at the end. Employers and providers work together through the bootcamps to build up sector-specific skills. There are 900 skills bootcamps all over the country, offering training in STEM, software engineering, data analytics, mechanical engineering and engineering diagnostics, to name but a few. In north Lancashire, Tech Lancaster offers key industrial experience in electronics for adults to acquire the skills local businesses need. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that skills bootcamps have a high rate of success in his area, with 61.5% positive outcomes from delivery in 2020-21. Tech Lancaster has six bootcamps related to electric, three on electric vehicle charging-point installation and one on domestic electrical. I know how important that subject is.

If my hon. Friend does not mind, I will mention my own college in Harlow, where, with Essex County Council and many others, I recently opened an electric vehicle centre—a multimillion pound investment—which forms part of the college’s advanced manufacturing and engineering centre, where students will learn all about electric vehicles and green skills. I am pleased to see that what is going on in Harlow is also going on in Morecambe and Lunesdale. I am very proud of Harlow College for all its achievements, just as my hon. Friend is proud of his college, and rightly so, for the reasons I have mentioned.

My hon. Friend also mentioned electronic technology skills in his area. Areas across the country will clearly have different skills needs, which will be determined by the employer and learner market. We have introduced local skills improvement plans, or LSIPs—these things always have tongue-twister names—which identify and address those needs. They include colleges, the local chamber of commerce, the council and other people, particularly businesses and providers, to ensure the provision for the area, identify the skills gaps and ensure that the skills that are needed are delivered. There will be a local skills financial plan that goes alongside each LSIP.

In order to deliver the high-quality technical training that is needed, we must also ensure that that providers have high-quality state-of-the-art facilities and equipment. I mentioned some of the funds that Lancaster and Morecambe College has received. Overall, we are investing £2.8 billion in capital, including on T-levels, which are really important; on more post-16 places; and on improving the condition of FE estates over the next three years. Lancaster and Morecambe College is in my hon. Friend’s area. I said I would mention an additional thing. He will be happy with it. He touched on it in his speech. Learners at the college are benefiting from facilities supported by over £600,000 from the DFE’s skills development fund in its new sustainable energy hub.

I hope that my hon. Friend is pleased with the amount of investment. It is very much due to his incredibly hard work and his championing of skills all the time he has been a Member. Money is going to support skills, and the energy hub delivers a range of new courses. Again, we are ensuring that green skills are embedded in the curriculum.

That same development fund has enabled the college to create one of the five electric and hybrid vehicles skills centres across Lancashire, such as the one I was talking about at Harlow College, through a regional contribution of more than £1 million. That has led to the upskilling of staff in colleges across the area in a range of qualifications, including those relating to electric, hybrid and motor vehicles; electric motorsport; battery technology; and electric vehicle infrastructure. Providers now offer wide-ranging provision to employers, students and apprentices across the region in these subjects. The college has received more than £1.5 million from the DFE’s capital transformation fund since 2020.

Other colleges in the region that serve my hon. Friend’s constituents have benefited from capital investment. Many of them have STEM-assured accreditation and deliver a range of science, technology, engineering and maths provision. I am very happy to write to him with all those details. With all the different moneys received by colleges, I think we would be here for a very long time, and I do not think the Chair would approve because there is another debate after this one.

We are investing £300 million in a network of 21 institutes of technology, which are state-of-the-art, employer-led provider organisations that will work in collaboration with colleges and universities. They are incredible institutions of the future because they work with FE, they are part of HE and many are placed at FE colleges. I have seen some myself. They specialise in the skills of the future, such as infrastructure, digital, energy and transport—all the things that my hon. Friend spoke about. There will be 21 around the country. He has one; Lancashire and Cumbria Institute of Technology will be launching in the summer. I am sure he will be at the opening because it is a very exciting skills development in his region.

For those seeking world-class STEM education at a higher-education level, we are investing more than £750 million from 2022 to 2024-25. That will support high-quality teaching and facilities, including in science and engineering. In 2022-23, more than half of the £1.3 million strategic priorities grant budget will be directed towards the provision of high-costs subjects, such as science, engineering and technology.

I hope I have assured my hon. Friend that there is a lot going on in his constituency and in the region to champion technical education and skills in STEM and in electronic skills. To achieve our ambitions, we are expanding opportunities for engagement in STEM subjects, investing more in both further and higher education, and giving people the opportunity to train, retrain and upskill throughout their lives. We have just introduced the lifelong learning entitlement, which will start from 2025. That will allow people to do flexible modular learning from levels 4 to 6, move around from institution to institution and do those shorter courses at a times their choosing. We are doing everything possible to invest in skills, infrastructure and resources and make that significant capital investment so that providers have the high-quality facilities and equipment to deliver those skills.

My hon. Friend asked me to visit his college. Subject to parliamentary duties, I would love to do so. There is nothing more I would like to do than go to Lancaster and Morecambe College to see the incredible work that it is doing to promote skills and T-levels, and to give younger people and adults brilliant qualifications. Subject to parliamentary duties, I would be very happy to visit —not just to see his beautiful constituency, but to learn about the skills and see the never-ending work that my hon. Friend is doing not just to see the implementation of the Eden Project, but to champion apprenticeships, skills, technical education and STEM across his constituency.

Question put and agreed to.