Tell us a little about your background.
I am an engineer and worked in the private sector until I joined the university in 1992 and became head of department in 2000.
As a university, I wonder if you collaborate with other universities or do you view each other as competitors?
Yes, we collaborate with other universities both regionally and internationally. We are part of a number of networks of maritime institutions including IAMU, which provides a platform for collaboration between international maritime universities, and are part of European networks through Erasmus and Erasmus plus programmes. Therefore, we maintain many connections and share knowledge both regionally, throughout the rest of Europe, and internationally.
The university is an institution with huge importance to the city. What do you see as its fundamental role in commercial sectors?
I believe the university’s role within commercial sectors is important on a number of levels. The first level and possibly the most important is in delivering on the skills agenda. If we are going to close the productivity gap in the UK we need people with the right skills to be able to apply the new technologies that are coming through. We need people with current skills but who also have the educational foundation, which enables them develop and be to apply future technologies.
What about your own department?
We have a number of projects we are working on which are geared towards supporting the maritime and the associated manufacturing sector. A large proportion of maritime activity in the region is in manufacturing. If you look at offshore wind for example, that is driving growth of marine and offshore engineering companies across the region and drawing many suppliers into the supply chain. As the number of wind farms expands, it drives manufacturing growth.
We’ve all heard the phrase that our children will be employed in jobs that don’t currently exist. Is this something you have experience of?
That’s very true. The role of education is to develop people with the skills to be able to adapt and apply knowledge, who can apply knowledge in new ways. That is the role of good engineering education. I graduated in engineering in the 1980’s but that foundation education gave me the skills to continue learning and to be able to apply new technology.
Many companies are saying they struggle to find enough people with the right skills. So it sounds like we need to find a way of future proofing the labour market by establishing better foundations through education?
The role of Colleges, Universities delivering technical education, which is relevant and accessible to people in employment, is more important today than it has ever been. New technology is rapidly changing the working environment and employees have to be able to acquire new knowledge, and skills to enable them to improve the productivity of the organisations in which they work.
Can I ask, what is a typical commercial partner for the university?
We work a lot through cluster and network organisations such as Mersey Maritime and Wirral Chamber. Both organisations play an important role in enabling us to reaching out to SME’s individually and collectively. It is possible to communicate and share knowledge with the business sector much more effectively through these organisations.
Do the new apprenticeships go across all levels? Apprenticeships, higher apprenticeships and degrees?
Yes. We are currently working with AMTC to deliver a degree apprenticeship and that will feed into post-graduate apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing. These are linked to qualifications delivered at local colleges in Wirral and will create pipeline of skills to post-graduate Apprenticeships at Level 7. We are also playing a key role in creating new apprenticeship standards for the maritime and marine sector. There are gaps in the standards available in this sector where you have a large number of SMEs. Writing standards is actually quite a difficult task and is something that can’t easily be delivered by a single SME, given time constraints and commercial pressures.
That sounds ideal because you are speaking to the end users and have the knowledge of education standards.
It’s a collaboration, the new standards must be created by employers but we are able to facilitate the process by getting the min 10 SME’s needed to create the standards working together. We can then work alongside them to design the assessment plan which would be an onerous task for someone whose day job is delivering value for their own business. We are providing the infrastructure and the expertise to help groups of SMEs to come together and create the standards they will need in order to access the levy funding and to truly benefit from it.
So can you give us some more detail about the Maritime Knowledge Hub?
Liverpool Maritime Knowledge Hub is inspired from the Norwegian experience and adapted from similar models in use in Germany and the Netherlands. It is about bringing together education, the maritime business cluster, local authority, and funding providers. This creates the opportunity to deliver a holistic provision for the sector. Without skilled labour, the sector cannot innovate, without funding, it cannot realise innovation, and without research, it cannot produce the education, which delivers future skills or innovation. Therefore, we are creating an interlinked ecosystem.
In Norway, the maritime business cluster funds R&D at universities to generate knowledge, which is shared with the business cluster using education programmes creating skilled labour and stimulating innovation in the sector. We are attempting to do something similar in the region. The Maritime Knowledge Hub will provide a base from which the knowledge generated by research can shared with the business cluster using higher, graduate and postgraduate apprenticeships. The hub will provide a base for high growth SMEs co-located. Bringing these innovative SME together with skilled labour stimulates high levels of innovation and growth. It is an approach we have seen working successfully in the Netherlands. These are established ideas but have not been extensively used in the UK.
This all sounds very exciting. Can I ask Why Wirral?
Wirral has so much going for it. It represents a large part of the city region’s manufacturing. The marine sector is starting to grow again as because oil prices are recovering, and civil nuclear and renewable energy sectors are expanding. There are aerospace and automotive companies, the petro-chemical industry, and Unilever. Wirral Waters is an attractive proposition it has the potential it has to be something similar to Salford quays and probably even better. Wirral is without doubt the perfect place for what we are trying to achieve.
You are one of the keynote speakers at Wirral Chamber’s, February’s In Business event. What will be your message?
I will be explaining that the role of the maritime knowledge hub in delivering skills and innovation and supporting sector growth. The University plays an important role in delivering the skilled workforce needed by the regions industries and in supporting SMEs in applying new technology to improve productivity or to develop new products. An important element of this is the new degree and graduate apprenticeships which we plan to launch starting with a new programme in Advanced Manufacturing developed and delivered in partnership with the Manufacturing Technology Centre High Value Manufacturing Catapult.
How do you view the university’s partnership with Wirral Chamber?
We enjoy a productive relationship with Wirral Chamber of Commerce. We are working in partnership with the Chamber to be able to reach out to business across a wider range of sectors. The benefit of being able to communicate effectively with business will help in delivering the skills agenda, technology transfer, and supporting business growth.
What has been the highlight of your career to date?
I do not think of my career in the context of highs and lows. I enjoy what I do and I like to think I can make a difference. I come into work each day and do a job that is rewarding and varied. For me it is about trying to enjoy each day and I would say that most of the time I do.
So what is a typical day for you?
I do not think there is a typical day. A good day might involve visiting a good business and finding a student placement opportunity with them, or possibly a knowledge transfer partnership, or discovering something new to take back to update our curriculum. I have varied role, which keeps it fresh and exciting and I am very appreciative of that. You can never tell for sure where your career will take you. A lot of it is down to good fortune as much as hard work. Many people work very hard but do not necessarily end up where they want to be or where they deserve to be, so in that respect I consider myself one of the fortunate ones.