New Digital Skills Curriculum to Equip Workforce for Industry 4.0

Academics and employers will work together to develop a new digital skills curriculum to serve the innovation needs of major industries ranging from food manufacturing to renewable energy.

The project, led by the University of Lincoln with direct input from industry partners, aims to identify and close skills gaps in digital literacy across a variety of employment sectors, including engineering, food and farming, pharmaceuticals, renewable energy and tourism.

It is funded with a grant of almost £200,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and contributions from the University and industrial partners.

A team of academic and industry experts will be formed to align the teaching curriculum in STEM subjects at Lincoln with the current and future digital skills needs of specific industries, ensuring a pipeline of digitally-literate, industry-ready graduates.

The project will draw on the University of Lincoln’s recognised expertise in computer science and engineering, but will cut across all subject areas, recognising the interdisciplinary nature of the digital economy.

Employers will co-produce course materials designed to prepare learners for the digital economy. Students will work on real-world challenges set by businesses to find digitally-enabled solutions. The goal is to equip more graduates and workers with the cutting-edge digital skills that can drive economic growth and prosperity in Greater Lincolnshire.

Professor Libby John, Pro Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Science at the University of Lincoln, said: “Society is in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution and those economies which thrive in the 21st Century will be those that embrace digitally enabled technologies, such as robotics, machine learning, the Internet of Things and big data analytics.
“Lincolnshire is in prime position to build on its strengths in sectors such as food and farming, engineering and tourism – if we can establish the infrastructure needed to realise the full potential of digital to enhance productivity and deliver real innovation. Digital literacy of the current and future workforce will be a crucial component and this project directly addresses that need, working hand-in-hand with employers.”

The project responds to the Government’s Industrial Strategy and Made Smarter review, which detailed the scope for digital technologies to bolster the UK productivity in what has been called ‘Industry 4.0’. The latter report made reference to the work of the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing to develop robotics and automation technologies for the food manufacturing industry.

New digital skills modules will be created on undergraduate programmes and new professional development short courses created for work-based students and employers. Students will gain credits towards the University’s Lincoln Award, a nationally-commended initiative run jointly by the University and Students’ Union to formally recognise extracurricular activities, work experience and other employability skills.

A variety of industrial partners of different sizes and sectors will support the creation of the new curriculum content. These include global companies such as Siemens, NHS organisations, Anglian Water and innovative local SMEs in high-tech sectors such as agri-tech, oil and gas, cloud-based software, and laser manufacturing.

Lincoln is one of more than 30 universities and colleges in England that have been awarded a share of £6.1 million by HEFCE to develop new and enhanced higher education courses through the Catalyst Fund programme.

HEFCE Chief Executive, Professor Madeleine Atkins, said: “We were delighted with the quality of proposals received for this funding call and particularly the impressive levels of engagement between higher education and industry.
“This investment represents important support for the government’s Industrial Strategy. The funding will provide new courses and vital skill developments in key industrial sectors across the country, from which students, the workforce and employers all stand to benefit.”