Fast track degree programme accelerating engineers towards Industry 4.0

An innovative training solution from Siemens Digital Industries is helping upskill their customers and suppliers to capitalise on the opportunities of Industry 4.0. The one year ‘top up’ degree programme gives engineers a BEng Hons (Bachelor of Engineering) in Control and Automation. 

Co-designed and co-delivered by Siemens Digital Industries and the University of Salford it uses a block delivery model combining academic modules in automation, robotics, and embedded systems, Siemens S7 Certified PLC programmer training and accreditation, and a workplace project to solve a real-world problem.

Since its launch in 2017 more than 40 internal and external personnel from global companies as well as SMEs have upgraded their existing qualifications and improved their academic status. Among them is Fairfield Control Systems, a Siemens Solution Partner that specialises in the design, manufacture, installation, commissioning and 24/7 support of industrial control solutions across a wide range of markets. Its work includes the supply of systems for many prestigious engineering projects including Tower Bridge, Wimbledon Centre Court’s retractable roof, the London Eye, and the Falkirk Wheel. Fairfield began enrolling its engineers to the programme in 2019 having previously used a two-year part-time degree programme. It is expecting its fifth engineer to graduate in the autumn.

Peter McMorrow, Engineering Director, said: “Our growth strategy means we need to increase the pipeline of talent every year. By moving to the Siemens one-year degree programme we can fast track the upskilling process of our engineers with industry relevant training content, while the block release approach allowed them time to focus on their studies and condensed their learning periods.

“This accelerated degree option is also now an attractive recruitment tool.”

Among those graduating is Jack Wilson, a 34-year-old design engineer. The degree is the end of a culmination of an extraordinary five-year journey which saw him quit his well-paid job in construction and embark on Fairfield’s apprenticeship scheme, all while trying to raise a young family.

“I never saw myself going as far as a degree, partly because of the cost and time involved and I doubted I could achieve that academic level,” Jack said. “But the fast track, block release approach was an attractive option. It has meant I have been able to really concentrate on taking on board what I am being taught, learn in my own time and at my own pace and deliver the results. Then, take it back to my day job. It has been fantastic. Starting again with a new career at the age I did was a very difficult decision and a hard job balancing work and my family responsibilities. But with the support of my loved ones and Fairfield Control Systems I’ve kept my focus and not looked back.”

Design engineer Billy Hanner, 22, also benefited from the innovative approach of the programme. He graduated with a first-class degree last year despite navigating the challenges of autism. Billy’s neurodiversity meant that in academic settings he struggled with exams while he excelled in practical assessment. 

“My academic experiences have been a mixed bag, but the degree programme really brought the best out of me,” Billy said. “The block release approach meant that I could keep focus on a topic and learn it inside and out. I was then able to immediately apply the new skills and knowledge to my job.”

As part of his degree Billy built a test rig of PLCs, drives and HMIs, and a training guide, which is now being used to train Fairfield’s new apprentices, meaning Billy has now also turned teacher. 

“I’ve always had a passion for engineering so, to be doing the job I love and having achieved a degree and further my career, means the world to me,” he added. 

Jason Phin, Training Solutions Business Manager at Siemens Digital Industries, said: “Our ambition has been to create a degree programme covering the range of practical skills and technical understanding that is needed not just in our workforce, but the wider industry, to fully capitalise on the opportunities of Industry 4.0. It’s fantastic that Fairfield Control Systems have bought into our approach and are seeing immediate returns on their skills investment.”

The programme is aimed at those at HNC/HND level looking to gain new skills, experience and knowledge and study through to degree. It is available both for apprentices as part of a degree apprenticeship, funded by the Apprenticeship Levy, or as a separate Continuing Professional Development (CPD) initiative for non-apprentices.

Other businesses to enroll engineers on the programme include Amazon, Costain, GSK and Muller Dairies.

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