Local Man appointed UK Chemical Industry Champion 

A BOLTON man has been appointed as a UK champion for the chemicals industry, to help develop a new Working Higher Foundation Degree to boost skills levels throughout the sector.

Robert Green has a 38-year background in R&D, technical and operational support roles in the sector.  A former environmental manager at £60m turnover company Akcros Chemicals in Manchester, Robert is calling for more employers to come forward and help design the new qualifications around the skills they need from their workforce.   

His role will be to strengthen the bridge between universities and industry, and help to develop the new work-based qualification for chemicals sector.  The aim is to help upskill the existing workforce and attract new entrants who are looking for an alternative to the standard university degree route.

The Working Higher initiative is aimed specifically at providing flexible work based routes to support workforce development - working with industry, for industry.  This £2.9 million initiative is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council and is a collaborative project between Cogent Sector Skills Council, the Higher Education Academy UK Physical Sciences Centre, the University of Hull, and SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies). 

Five new Foundation Degrees are being developed, one each for the chemical, polymers, bioscience and pharmaceutical, nuclear, and refining and petrochemicals industries.

The chemicals Foundation Degree is being led by Manchester Metropolitan University, but with a focus on working through a national consortium of partners to support the sector. 

The approach will seek to build on and capture existing good practice in delivering fit for purpose education, training and development for those already working in the sector.  For example, components of the Foundation Degree will focus on accrediting in-house training and education, capturing existing sector valued external training and education, maximising the use of the workplace as a learning environment, and focusing new development specifically on gaps that cannot currently be met.  

“The response so far has been positive, but we need more employers to work with us so that the new degrees are a true representation of what the industry needs, whether they are a multinational or an SME,” he said. 

“One of the spin off benefits of the new Foundation Degrees will be that the students will mix with peers from other companies, putting them into a wider pool where they can share experiences, knowledge and best practice.  This will be particularly useful when industries downsize or people retire and leave the next generation to become the experts, but without anyone around them to bounce questions and ideas off. 

“Current higher education provision is predominantly aimed at full time study, with few work-based routes for those already in work to gain or enhance their skills.  By working as a consortium with other sector partners, we seek to ensure that these new work-based degrees reflect the needs of employers and employees. 

“Learning should be a lifelong process and this needs to be reflected in the variety of routes offered for work-based learners.  There should be opportunities to take single, bite-sized modules that meet specific knowledge and skills needs for the business, that meet professional and regulatory requirements where appropriate, and that can provide accessible higher level qualification for the individual as part of that person’s continued professional development.

“Employers across most sectors identify the value of the knowledge and skills that individuals gain specifically through time spent working in industry, hence the added value placed on sandwich years and industrial placements.   Maximising the workplace as a learning environment for those already in work is equally important, and applied learning in an industrial context is a core tenet of the Working Higher initiative.

“The Foundation Degrees offer a work-based career path, making them ideal for developing people into roles on the ‘earn and learn’ principle, and for upskilling and reskilling more experienced staff as part of the a business’s workforce development strategy.

“We are deliberately looking at flexible delivery through methods that reflect the needs of the business as well as those of the employee.  The programme will be developed to be delivered in a variety of modes that form a blended learning route which could incorporate on-site delivery, block release, distance learning and accreditation of in-house training.  All of these will help employers to upskill their workforce while balancing operational needs. 

“The new Working Higher Foundation Degrees are a revolution in higher education terms – they will be shaped by industry itself, and much of the testing and verification of what a student has actually learned will be done in the workplace.  This testing of technical capabilities is a crucial element and sets these qualifications apart from the rest.  

“What we need now are more employers to step up and work with us to develop the qualifications that will underpin a world class workforce across the UK’s chemical industry.  The Working Higher initiative offers dedicated resources to get this right for the sector and a real opportunity to be part of an innovative approach to meeting the wider workforce needs now and for the future. ”

Robert is one of six industry champions appointed by the consortium.  Each one is working alongside a partner university to develop the course content and delivery mechanism for their particular sector, with the intention that some of the content for the degrees will eventually be made available to other universities around the country. 

The universities chosen to deliver Working Higher, under the leadership of the University of Hull, are:  University of Kent (Bioscience), Manchester Metropolitan University (Chemicals), University of Central Lancashire (Nuclear), London Metropolitan University (Polymers), and University of Hull (Refining and Petrochemical Engineering.)

Employers who want to get involved can contact Robert Green on email:  robert.green40@ntlworld.com, or Pauline Maden, Cogent Higher Education Curriculum Manager, on email:  Pauline.maden@cogent-ssc.com.

Attached pic:  Robert Green

Robert Green