The Composites Skills Alliance brings together employers and training providers.
The Composites Skills Alliance brings together employers and training providers.
Tom Preece, Business Manager at the Composites Skills Alliance.
Tom Preece, Business Manager at the Composites Skills Alliance.

When the UK Government published its UK Composites Strategy in 2009, the report highlighted how the commercial opportunities offered by the emerging composites industry were at risk from a number of barriers to market. (See: UK government unveils Composites Strategy.)

Among the barriers set out in the document was a shortage of the necessary skills at nearly every level, which was attributed to two main factors:

  • difficulty in identifying and accessing training; and
  • a general lack of courses and qualifications relating specifically to the composites industry.

In order to address these challenges, it was acknowledged that skills development should focus on a coordinated, employer-driven approach that would address the industry's immediate needs for re-skilling and up-skilling, and promote consistent standards of training delivery.

The quality and availability of composites-specific training is inextricably linked to the future of composites production. According to statistics, the UK is looking to double its composites workforce by 2015, but in order to meet this target composites training provision will need to increase four-fold from current levels.

Formed out of a partnership between the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies (Semta) and the National Skills Academy Process Industries, the Composites Skills Alliance brings together employers and training providers with the aim of developing quality-assured training that keeps pace with the evolution of composites skills and technology.

Employers exert an influence on the direction of the Alliance through a high level, cross-sector steering group drawn made up of employers from the aerospace, automotive, construction, marine, wind energy, manufacturing and service sectors. The group advises the Alliance on industry priorities and offers valuable feedback on the quality and relevance of its courses. Representatives from organisations including Airbus, industry trade association Composites UK, the National Composites Centre in Bristol, Rolls-Royce and Scott Bader sit on the steering group which meets regularly.

Course development and delivery is undertaken in conjunction with a growing network of accredited training providers comprising further and higher education institutions, private training providers and employer training organisations.

In order to meet the industry requirement of consistent and high quality training, all accredited training providers adhere to a rigorous Training Delivery Quality System (TDQS). Based on existing National Skills Academy best practice, TDQS requires training providers to demonstrate that their facilities and personnel meet generic composites and educational standards, as well as the specific demands of individual course content.

The Alliance portfolio of courses is aimed at all levels of personnel – from entry-level and business support staff to graduates, technicians, engineers, managers and designers.

Composites Skills Alliance video
UK composites employers talk about their experiences of the Composites Skills Alliance's training services in this video.

To date, the majority of course participants have come from composites businesses. However, as the market develops, there is increasing demand from non-composites companies operating in related sectors, such as polymers and resins, as well as other companies that are diversifying into the sector.

The Alliance is also part of the Composites Hub – a tripartite collaboration with Composites UK and the National Composites Centre. The three organisations work closely together to ensure that the UK composites industry has all the support it needs in terms of technology (NCC), skills (the Alliance) and trade (Composites UK). ♦