Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems

Delivering future generations of clean and efficient vehicles

Topic: skills

‘Smart specialisation’ and building links with SMEs

📥  Industry, LEPs, skills

Industrial strategy, after its long hiatus, is back on the policy agenda. With the government’s creation of a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, there’s a new found remit for the state in playing a more active role in re-shaping the UK economy. 

But industrial strategy today is different from the past. Back in the 1970s and 80s, ‘industrial policy’ - as it was then known - was synonymous with governments ‘picking winners’ or overly-political interference in markets. High profile failures at the time, notably British Leyland, led to an erosion of public and political support. A slow reappraisal since, first in view of the impact of global financial crisis and then the comparative success of emerging markets with industrial strategies, has just been given a rocket in view of Brexit.

These days industrial strategy is far more nuanced and dynamic. Modern industrial strategy does not favour particular firms, nor particular sectors per se, but rather revolves around the private and public sectors discovering new opportunities, identifying and supporting specific activities with commercial potential, in a process known as ‘smart specialisation’.

This modern industrial strategy has a strong regional element to it. It’s about exploiting existing regional competences and expertise, while also empowering local actors to realise potential and develop new specialisms. Smart specialisation, as part of this, facilitates dynamic regional growth.

Inside IAAPS

Inside IAAPS at the Bristol & Bath Science Park.

In view of our work in this area, we were asked this summer to consider how SMEs would benefit from working with and using the facilities proposed at the Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS). To do this we conducted a survey of UK SMEs in both the automotive and aerospace industries; over six weeks we received 107 responses (a 9.7 per cent response rate).

Overall, the results gleaned from this indicate that UK SMEs – across both sectors – are generally positive about IAAPS, seeing it as a conduit for accessing and sharing information relating to new technologies, and accessing a wider network of industry contacts, strengthening their supply chain relationships.

Many SMEs saw IAAPS as an opportunity to enhance their company image and access new funding. These benefits were seen to be enhanced if IAAPS was associated with a global automotive manufacturer; the latter’s presence seen as a draw to enhance greater networking and knowledge transfer. Our results also suggested that more could be still done to increase SMEs’ understanding about IAAPS, something which has helped to inform the University’s engagement strategy with business.

IAAPS will offer an open access space for SMEs and start ups.

IAAPS will offer an open access space for SMEs and start ups.

The latest of these engagement activities with SMEs will take at the Bristol & Bath Science Park today. This involves providing more public information about IAAPS and conducting focus groups to gauge new insights from stakeholders and get more of their involvement on designing IAAPS so that it truly enables a collaborative and open platform that can boost businesses including SMEs and start-ups, attract new investment and enhance what’s known as the cluster dynamic.

IAAPS can be an ideal candidate for smart specialisation supported by clusters of SMEs. Offering technological synergies with related sectors, IAAPS can enhance the South West’s cluster dynamic through innovation and by improving productivity. It’s an exciting time to be involved in industrial strategy and an exciting time to see how our region will benefit from these new opportunities available.

Dr Phil Tomlinson is Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Business Economics in our  School of Management. His research interests covers Economic Governance, Regional Development and Clusters and Industrial Policy.

Dr Felicia Fai is also a Senior Lecturer in Business Economics in the School of Management. Her research interests cover Innovation Technology R&D.


How a Triple Helix Model will generate a West of England success story

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📥  Industry, labour market, skills

Since the creation of the UK’s network of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) back under the coalition government in 2011, a renewed onus on partnership working between local authorities, industry and academia has been at the forefront of plans to stimulate economic development and jobs recovery. Five years on, the 39 LEPs spanning the country have evolved as champions of research infrastructures to drive innovation.

Here in the West of England our LEP has been proactive in recognising the opportunity to respond to the needs of several automotive businesses. Ford and JLR, alongside their supply chain companies, want to continue to access the unique ‘systems integration’ expertise at the University of Bath, to develop the future generations of low carbon vehicles: vehicles that could be autonomous, contain multiple propulsion technologies, and are affordable.

Our LEP, like industry, want the synergy between our academic expertise, large scale state of the art facilities, and the economic benefits in jobs and gross value added. They recognise the unique opportunity to reap the rewards of such collaborative working through our proposal for the Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS). IAAPS shows how and why this nexus between research excellence, business innovation and economic development, the so-called ‘Triple Helix Model’, helps generate powerful results for all partners involved.

Our vision for IAAPS has been developed in partnership with industry and with our Local Enterprise Partnership.

Our vision for IAAPS has been developed in partnership with industry and with our Local Enterprise Partnership.

Alongside the West of England LEP

This is because, by working on our proposals in partnership, IAAPS aligns with the West of England LEP’s priorities, as outlined by its latest Strategic Economic Plan. IAAPS will provide resilience to the Advanced Engineering expertise in the Aerospace and other sectors, where high value design and integration (technology and talent) will become increasingly interrelated.

In no area is this truer than in developing the West of England’s advanced engineering industries where with the appropriate skills provisions, our region has distinct competitive advantage which brings the enormous potential for sustainable future jobs growth too. The Bristol & Bath Science Park is an obvious location for several facilities, developing an Advanced Engineering Campus.

Through a £50 million capital investment, IAAPS can support 1,900 new jobs and safeguard thousands more. These are high value jobs, each providing significant productivity gains worth around £50,000 per employee: higher wages means a more prosperous regional economy. And through IAAPS we’ll be creating unrivaled training opportunities, including through new PhDs and apprenticeships, helping us now and in the future.

This sustained economic growth will rely on the success of our small businesses and support for our SMEs remains another key priority area for the LEP. With Brexit, IAAPS will reassure both large foreign-owned manufacturers to continue to invest in the design and integration of future powertrain developments, which will grow the indigenous SME supply chain. Providing a collaborative and open platform for SMEs and start-ups, IAAPS will help build and expand their business.

From our work we know IAAPS has the potential to attract millions of pounds of private sector investment from this country and from abroad. This will be a success story for the University but also for our local partners and industry collaborators. It’s an example of the level of engagement required to unlock new funding and one that we should follow as we explore future priority areas for partnership working.

Watch our new IAAPS video


Dr Jon Hunt is Director, Research & Innovation Services (RIS) at the University and part of the IAAPS project team.


Why today’s skills shortage matters

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📥  Automotive, Industry, labour market, skills

In my last blog I outlined how UK automotive in 2016 is in an enviable position but must keep moving forward by innovating through new research and development if it is to continue to capture the future market share. Here, I want to turn to the other piece of the jigsaw that it’s fundamental we get right: Upskilling our current and future workforce so that we have the right people in place to fill the high-end, advanced engineering jobs this industry creates.

Earlier this year, Automotive Council UK set out how 5,000 jobs lay vacant in UK automotive due to current skills shortages. That’s a depressing statistic and something that is undermining future growth in the sector. The report finds that 20% of those unfilled vacancies are ‘critical’ and having a ‘significant impact’ on companies’ operations.

This is a challenge recognised nationally, regionally and by the sector. The UK government’s ‘Driving the Future Today’ strategy, launched in 2013, outlines four key priorities, one of which is investing in skills. On a regional level, our Local Enterprise Partnership covering the West of England has highlighted similar issues directly impacting on this part of the world; specific skills shortages in High Tech, Low Carbon and Advanced Engineering.

IAAPS will offer extensive industry-led training opportunities including new Masters and PhD programmes.

IAAPS will offer extensive industry-led training opportunities including new Masters and PhD programmes.

Here at the University this is where our plans for the Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS) can come in. In addition to the industry-led experimental research that IAAPS can foster, our Institute will also provide world class training and development opportunities, helping to deliver the highly skilled engineers that our industry partners are crying out for.

Aligning neatly with the University’s own strategy for postgraduate education, we want IAAPS to be a training environment that nurtures research leaders of the future and upskills our current workforce. We’ll do this through a significant investment in new Masters and PhDs programmes, as well as through new apprenticeships.

And by developing this skills provision with our industry partners in-line with their needs, those going through our courses will be exposed to real world challenges, ensuring that their employability having graduated will be second to none.

Labour productivity for UK automotive is currently the highest in Europe, but sustained future growth will only continue if we plug the skills gap the industry is facing. IAAPS can help achieve this by training the next generation of advanced automotive engineers.

Steve Egan CBE is Vice-President (Implementation) at the University of Bath and the key contact for the University’s plans to develop IAAPS at the Bristol & Bath Science Park.