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Skill development and firm upgrading to sustain the competitiveness of the EU manufacturing sector

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SkillUp (Skill development and firm upgrading to sustain the competitiveness of the EU manufacturing sector)

Reporting period: 2015-09-18 to 2017-09-17

In the last decades, European manufacturing industries have gone through intense change. New trends of automation and data exchange in manufacturing (defined as Industry 4.0) are changing the scenario of this sector. Indeed, technological change not only heavily affected the stock of workers employed in manufacturing but, more importantly, impacted on the nature of skill demanded. Technological change might threaten jobs and livelihood in some places if skills are not upgraded to match the new tasks and requirements. However, at the same time, emerging technologies can also offer opportunities to upgrade regional human capital stocks to pursue a balanced industrial development.

Manufacturing has also experienced significant transformation as a result of globalisation: it has been the subject of an intense international reorganisation driven crucially by firms’ offshoring strategies. The hollowing out of manufacturing activities is eroding the skill base. This has raised concerns over a mismatch between firms’ skill needs and a persistent skill shortage caused by inadequate training and skilling responsiveness.

These phenomena set new challenges that need to be addressed through effective collaborations bringing together the education system, the government and companies. These issues are of huge public and policy interest, and have multiple beneficiaries outside of academia, including in central government, local government, industry and citizens. Indeed, upskilling the labour force in key manufacturing industries must be a game-changer for Europe. It allows central government and local government to define effective workforce skill development in order to enhance the competitiveness of EU manufacturing and service sectors. It impacts on companies’ training strategies and affects citizens’ choices in terms of education/career choices.

SkillUp has addressed three of five targets set in EU2020, namely, employment, R&D and education. More specifically, the overall aim of SkillUp has been to provide evidence that the competitiveness of EU manufacturing industries rests on firms’ upgrading strategies coupled with workforce skill development via training and education.

SkillUp has highlighted: 1) which skills are needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow; 2) what types of workers can lead to higher regional economic performance; and 3) what effective education and training programmes manufacturing companies should put in place to match the skill set needed in Industry 4.0.
During the project, a literature review on the change on manufacturing sectors due to globalisation and technological changes, skills requirements in the new manufacturing context was carried out, followed by a survey of skill formation systems in advanced countries. SkillUp’s empirical analysis drew on secondary microdata from European Labour Force Survey and Eurostat regional statistics, as well as on primary data collected via an online survey in Italy, Germany, UK, Sweden, and Spain and in six manufacturing sectors. Within the SkillUp project, three academic papers have been delivered. The first paper looks at the link between occupational mix and regional productivity. The second study looks at how European multinational companies operating in advanced manufacturing sector can enhance their performance by balancing talent-based, place-based and global drivers. A third study focuses on education and training policy and finds what mix of education and training advanced manufacturing firms put in place to match their skill requirements. These papers are under review in peer-review journals.

SkillUp findings were presented at a number of events, including: i) invited talks and teaching activities in UK, Italian, Spanish higher education institutions; ii) research impact and public engagement workshop to raise awareness of the characteristics of future jobs in advanced manufacturing (The Millennial Apprentice in Industry 4.0); iii) national/specialist outlet on manufacturing; iv) international academic and practitioners conferences; v) Marie-Curie info day and further Marie-Curie channels; vi) University of Birmingham newsletters; and vii) social media channels (such as SkillUp webpage, Twitter and Facebook).
The findings of the SkillUp project have enabled a better understanding of: i) the link between occupational mix and regional productivity; ii) what combination of talent-based, place-based and global drivers enhance firms’ performance; and iii) what mix education and training contribute to advanced manufacturing firms’ ability to match their skill requirements.

SkillUp has contributed to provide evidence on what are the skill issues that Industry 4.0 is bringing about.

Overall, the activities performed over the two-year project have addressed industrial and societal needs at regional level by contributing towards European policy objectives on skills development and upgrading in advanced manufacturing sector, in particular in a mix of high tech and medium tech industries including engineering, new materials, biotech, as well as apparel, textiles and furniture which represents critical sectors in EU industrial panorama. We believe that our work has achieved its goals identifying the appropriate sets of jobs that are needed to enhance EU competitiveness as well as to inform policy makers to create jobs and a smart and inclusive economic growth that can be reached promoting educational/training programmes (higher education/vocational training ones) linked to Industry 4.0. The studies carried out during SkillUp project: i) provide suggestions to European firms on how to enhance their long-term competitiveness; and ii) identify strategies and tools to upskill their human capital to respond to needs related to new trends in manufacturing and service sectors linked to Industry 4.0.

Moreover, SkillUp contributed to research on skills in manufacturing sectors in European advanced economies in the following aspects:
i) Theory. SkillUp provided a systematic view of new trends manufacturing and services (Industry4.0). SkillUp developed a new conceptual framework in terms of types of workers of today and tomorrow. It connected so-far distant literatures on global value chain with learning and skills development in relation to upskilling and upgrading in advanced economies. The research defined a systemic, inter-disciplinary view of a fragmented literature on the global reorganisation of production activities in the manufacturing industries in advanced economies.
ii) Empirics. SkillUp provided rigorous research and evidence based findings on which skills are needed for today and tomorrow’s jobs.
iii) Methods: SkillUp tackled limitation of standard methods by using new methodologies by allowing methods that accept the equifinality of different combinations, and possible redundancy of elements.
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