Nigel Whitehead, CTO at BAE Systems, stated that the defence, aerospace, engineering and manufacturing sectors need to work together and prioritise investment in digital and ‘soft skills’, by upskilling, retraining and supporting supply chains and SMEs. Such an effort would respond to the anticipated levels of complexity in industrial and business systems, as well as unprecedented demand for technologies such as artificial intelligence.
Whitehead 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 maths (STEM) subjects and careers. In addition, Whitehead said the engineering industry should consider recruiting more people with highly applicable skills that traditionally are more associated with arts subjects, such as creativity and problem solving.
The six guiding principles set out in the company’s white paper are: creating a more diverse, inclusive and flexible workplace for the employees of tomorrow; committing to retraining and upskilling; prioritising investment in digital, soft and behavioural skills; continuing to support suppliers and the SME community so they can develop skills in the digitally-enabled workplace; continuing to improve the perception of STEM subjects and careers; and continuing to champion vocational training.
At a launch event hosted at the company’s Academy for Skills & Knowledge in Samlesbury, Lancashire, Whitehead, said: “I’m 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.”
Joining Whitehead 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’ll put at risk our ability to benefit from the opportunities created by digital transformation and other waves of change.”
BAE Systems invests £90 million annually in skills in the UK. At any given time, there are approximately 2,500 apprentices and graduates in training across its UK business.