Opinion Former Article

Cogent: Innovative vocational routes in STEM must be made top priority says report

Tomorrow sees the launch of Cogent Sector Skills Council's latest Research Report, Skills for Science Industries: Skills at Work. The report is available via a unique microsite dedicated to the research:


Cogent is the SSC for the pharmaceuticals, chemicals, nuclear, oil and gas, petroleum and polymer industries.

This latest report provides an up-to-date and far-reaching analysis of the extent to which the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills needs of these science-using industries are being met.

In the report Cogent presents the concept of the "Skills Factory" a stock and flow model of the workforce - where the "stock" is the current and projected level of level of employment in the sector and the "flow" is the rate of people in and out of the sector. Interviews with key players from industry, Unite the Union and academia bring an added perspective to the facts and figures.

The report confirms that this is a sector that is in transition: from a mainly resource-intensive to an increasingly knowledge-intensive industry footprint which is dependent upon highly skilled, technology-literate operators who can operate flexibly in teams.

However, the number of skilled young people who have these practical and up-to-date STEM skills entering the Cogent industries is not meeting this anticipated demand. In addition many individuals in the current workforce, where pressing skills gaps have been identified, will still be employed in 2020, highlighting the priority need for a robust upskillsing programme.

The report confirms that Cogent's challenge, working closely with sector, is to ensure the vocational programmes on offer are attractive, innovative, engaging and equip both young people and the existing workforce with the skills and knowledge that these wealth-creating and vital industries require.

Cogent's CEO, Joanna Woolf said: "the Skills for Science Industries report moves us on from Cogent's earlier Sector Skills Agreement research, and is designed to provide thought-leadership around the future of these key industries. Importantly, it supports us in defining our strategic priorities as a Sector Skills Council and will further determine how both public and private investment in skills can bring the very best returns for these high-value industries which we all depend on for our quality of life. "

Report key findings:

  • The report suggests that the current inflow of non-graduates to the industries (entry via apprenticeship routes and vocational qualification routes) is insufficient to meet replacement demand in processing and technician roles.
  • This deficit will increase significantly in the five-year period to 2017, which coincides with the known lowest point in 16-18 year-olds in the population. Recruitment to the sector will therefore be taking place within a very competitive marketplace during this period.
  • Alternative sources of skills to meet demand are required, including a focus on upskilling and re-skilling the current workforce, as well as initiatives to attract more entrants (see www.cogent-careers.com)
  • Development of the Cogent National Skills Academies for Nuclear and Process Industries will help to address this gap by stimulating demand for and delivering high quality vocational programmes across the UK.
  • At the higher level the current level of supply is likely to be sufficient overall, although further analysis will be needed to monitor the needs of individual industries to avoid specific pinch-points, particularly with new build on the nuclear agenda.
  • The forecasts illustrate the need for a concentration on the Technician and Operator workforce through the development of qualifications and vocational training at relevant levels, and through the upskilling of the existing Cogent workforce.
  • The analysis suggests that the emphasis on particular skills levels will need adjusting upwards from current rates if we are to meet the future needs of the sector.

Cogent Director of Research, Dr Brian Murphy added, "The picture fits with the anecdotal evidence that Cogent regularly receives from employers, and we are confident that the analysis forms a strong basis for action.

"We plan to continue examining the figures available to improve the analysis further, including through the use of our forthcoming Oracle project, which will provide a detailed longitudinal study of skills needs in the sector."

Notes to Editors

About Cogent

Cogent is the sector skills council for the chemicals, pharmaceuticals, nuclear, oil and gas, petroleum and polymer industries. It is the voice of employers in these sectors and is working with them to create a skills environment that businesses need to be innovative, competent, productive and sustainable. Cogent's objectives are:

  • To improve productivity and business performance through skills development
  • To reduce skills gaps and shortages
  • To increase opportunities to boost skills
  • To influence skills supply across the training and education spectrum from schools to
  • Higher Education

Cogent currently represents the interests of more than 20,000 businesses employing around 500,000 people. Since its creation it has been building on existing partnerships at regional and national level to drive forward the skills agenda in its science-using footprint.

For more on what we offer go to: www.cogent-ssc.com

Cogent is happy to supply editorial contributions on skills and education in its sector.

For further information contact:

Judith Cowan on 01925 515 215; judith.cowan@cogent-ssc.com; Or Mervin Dadd on 01925 515 212; mervin.dadd@cogent.ssc.com (mobiles 07818 408 554/ 07717 486 102)

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