February 2024

New centres for innovation offer support for small businesses to upskill

By Anna Fawcett

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A £100 million investment from the Innovation Accelerator programme will see a new innovation hub launched at University College Birmingham.

The hub will support manufacturing and construction businesses in getting up to speed with new technology adoption. 
One of the areas for support will be in Industry 4.0, a next-generation automation suite for production lines using AI in machine control. The steps taken by businesses in this area of development are being dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution due to their importance to industry in utilising machine learning to improve and automate processes.

The programme will deliver 26 transformative research and development projects accelerating growth in three high-potential innovation clusters across the UK, one of which is the West Midlands. 

Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and running until 2025, the programme targets a key priority in industry to support smaller-sized, high-need businesses with the tools required to adopt digital technology to enhance their business operations.

One of the barriers to many of these businesses’ aims to evolve and develop their workforce is the ability to engage with Industry 4.0 technology. The Innovation Hubs will build on a strong existing foundation of business engagement between colleges and employers, by enhancing existing offers of apprenticeships and bootcamps, with bespoke training developed in tandem with the employers.

"The role of Further Education Colleges has generally been as education providers, although our engagement with employers also sees us well placed to support business innovation."

Rosa Wells FE Principal and Dean of STEM

Recently outlined in the West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) plan for growth and the Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP), business support services will be able to take advantage of the services on offer, alongside the regional growth sectors of Healthtech, MedTech, Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering and Construction. 

University College Birmingham is one of the six West Midlands-based further education colleges involved in the programme. As well as support with Industry 4.0 technology, the University will also offer new support pathways to businesses with challenges around sustainability, using the most advanced tools in its new Centre for Sustainable Construction.

The University will also provide support in the face of the growing threat of cyber-attacks and an urgent need for businesses to take preventative measures to protect themselves and their clients. The Innovation Hub will offer services around cyber security preparation and identifying training needs.

"This exciting project starts the process of recognising Further Education Colleges working with Institutes of Technology as part of the innovation ecosystem and presents new opportunities to scale innovation support across the UK and ensure all regions can increase innovation activity," said Rosa. 

The success of the pilot will be determined by the uptake of the range of services and support on offer by the Innovation Hubs and the beneficial impacts on businesses using them. Businesses will be identified, supported and go on to adopt the technologies on offer. The Collaborative College group will gather feedback from businesses on how they can continue to be supported beyond the project in consultation, and with support from, the WMCA. 

University College Birmingham's School of Engineering, Digital and Sustainable Construction has state-of-the-art facilities to help learners of all skill levels train. Find out more about our courses here

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