Electronics Technology Skills: North Lancashire

Part of 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.