Opinion Former Article

Cogent: Foundation degrees set to play key role boosting skills in Cogent sector

Cogent the national skills council for the chemicals, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, nuclear, petroleum and polymer industries has today published research into the role of Foundation degrees in the sector.

This has revealed that.
. Very few employers in the sample know about Foundation degrees
. Many highlighted shortcomings in the qualifications they were currently using
. Where they were satisfied with provision it was where qualifications were designed with employer needs in mind
. The majority of employers could see that Foundation degrees had the potential to meet the needs of their company, either for new entrants or for upskilling of existing employees
. Most of the employers said they would support the future development of Foundation degrees for their sector

Foundation degrees are designed with employers, and combine academic study with workplace learning to equip people with relevant knowledge and skills to improve performance and productivity. Employees don't necessarily need formal qualifications to apply for a Foundation degree as previous relevant work experience will be taken into account.

Liz Johnson, Cogent Skills Director, who managed the research said: "The ongoing success of the Cogent industries is dependent on the availability of people who are highly skilled in engineering, science and technology. As technology continues to advance and production moves to more added value products the workforce must continually develop its technical skills.

"At the same time the sector faces issues of an ageing workforce, poor diversity and negative perceptions of the work from young people at a time when the industries face stiff competition for employees. Foundation degrees are set to play a central part in addressing these issues by providing both a vehicle for upskilling and a clear, interesting, practical and stretching entry pathway."

The study looked at the potential role for Foundation degrees in upskilling the existing workforce particularly for apprentices and technicians working at Level 3, as well as providing a suitable route for entry to the sector.

Cogent has now made a number of recommendations for the development of Foundation degrees for their sector. These include:
. Where existing Foundation degree provision has already met the needs of the employers in specific localities, replication of this should be encouraged nationally
. Modularised content on a 'pick and mix' basis within a credit framework coupled with flexible delivery (including on-line and distance delivery) will be central to the success
. Modules will cover technical skill (~50%) and generic skills (~50%) such as Business Management, Team Working and Leadership and Project Management and Control.
. All relevant channels should be used to promote better awareness of Foundation degrees in the Cogent industries
Cogent, based on employer feedback also made a number of industry specific recommendations that:
. Cogent leads the development of a new Foundation degree for the petroleum (refineries) sector
. Work with employers and potential providers is undertaken to develop a 'composites' pathway within the framework of the existing Polymer Technology Foundation degree
. Providers of Foundation degrees for the Cogent industries get endorsement from the employer-led National Skills Academies for the Process Industries (NSAPI) and the Nuclear industry (NSAN)
. Discussions take place with employers, potential providers and other relevant bodies in the East of England with a view to developing a Foundation degree for the high-profile energy industries in this region.
. The potential to enhance the existing Foundation degrees in Polymer Technology and Chemical Technology and to deliver in other regions is explored.
Cogent is now in discussion with Foundation Degree Forward regarding the above recommendations is moving forward with the work.

Notes to Editors
Cogent conducted in-depth interviews with 33 employers, and in addition, consulted employer groups and regional networks of employers. It also conducted interviews with the providers of the existing Foundation degrees relevant to the sector. Desk research explored the provision of other higher education qualifications of relevance to the sector. A wealth of information about employer requirements and attitudes was revealed by the research.

This work received funding and support from Foundation Degree Forward.

Skills Academies
The business planning phase for the employer-led National Skills Academies for Nuclear and for the Process Industries is now well underway. The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) gave the green light to an expression of interest for both National Skills Academies back in October 2006, with plans for them to go live at the end of 2007. Cogent submitted the bids working with and on behalf of employers.

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