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Government to boost UK innovation by challenging manufacturers to find new ways of developing skills

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In recent years, the UK has risen up the ‘Global Innovation Index‘, moving from 14th in 2010 to second place in 2014. After all, innovation has been, and will continue to be, a key driver of UK productivity growth and economic prosperity. 

Currently the UK maintains a respectable position internationally. On some metrics it is among the leading innovation nations in the world, and there are some signs that the performance of the system is on a positive trajectory.

But there are significant barriers to innovation. 

The government assessment of the UK’s science and innovation system, undertaken for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in 2014, identified planning, recruiting, training, retention, progression and performance management as weak parts of the system, with worrying deficiencies in basic skills, STEM skills and management. Businesses’ skills, workplace practices, and management are critical to ensuring the value of innovation is maximised.

In the government’s ‘Innovation 2014‘ report, it stated that “a survey of UK employers found that the number of reported skills shortage vacancies rose from 16 to 22 per cent between 2011 and 2013. Crucially, 44 per cent of businesses reporting difficulties filling vacancies due to skills shortages said this delayed the development of new products and services.”

Now, as the ‘Global Innovation Index‘ suggests, we need to explore the “human factor” in innovation.

“This means understanding how to better manage innovations; both in the way processes work and how any innovation is taken to market,” said Paul McKelvie OBE, a commissioner at the UKCES.

One of the first sectors the government is focusing on seems to be manufacturing. The UKCES is launching the ‘Skills for Innovation in Manufacturing’ competition, which will challenge firms to come up with new ways of developing the skills and business practices needed to maximise the value of innovation to the UK economy.

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It has been suggested that the manufacturing industry has underperformed for many years. Output in the sector declined particularly sharply during the 2008/09 recession, and after a short period of growth it declined again in early of 2012.

On the other hand, 2013 and 2014 have seen relatively strong growth. And if that growth is maintained then the UK will surely flourish.

So the true test now is to transform outdated views of UK manufacturing and dispel the myth that Britain ‘doesn’t make anything anymore’.

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