We all know that the workplace is changing quickly, and that it is being driven by advances in technology. Indeed, nowhere is the impact of technology on the workplace more apparent than in advanced manufacturing, a sector with relevant implications for the health of the broader European economy.
It is against this background that the EU-funded NAMA project was launched three years ago, to help machine tool builders and advanced manufacturers handle the implications of technological change. CECIMO, the European association of the machine tool industries, was the industry body in the partnership.
One consequence of the introduction of sophisticated technologies into the workplace is an increase in the demand for mathematical skills on the factory floor. The machine tool sector represents a striking example. Once dominated by manual machines, the industry has increasingly turned to the so-called computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines as a result of the automation of factory production lines. The use of software controlling the movements of machines for the mass production of complex pieces of work has grown, and so has the demand for workers able to operate and set up these machines. Solid numeracy skills can offer a stepping stone for the acquisition of these crucial competences. But not only that, strong numeracy skills facilitate the development of abilities in using computer-aided design (CAD) for production processes through additive manufacturing – a ground-breaking technology, otherwise known as 3D printing.
Given this evolving context, it is no wonder leading European machine tools industrialists have made joint calls to focus on mathematical skills. After all, there are already signs of an acceleration of specialisation in the sector.
The need for highly skilled workers is intensifying as employers focus on the digital know-how of their workforce. To mention one figure, the overall number of EU manufacturing-related jobs with high-level qualifications is expected to grow by roughly 20% by 2025. However, we know from PIAAC that the mathematical skills of the European workforce are still a cause of concern.
CECIMO and its partners in the R&D, VET and higher education fields embarked upon the Erasmus+ NAMA project to find solutions to this. NAMA has developed training materials for education providers and interactive tools for learners and employees to increase numeracy skills in the machine tool and advanced manufacturing workforce. These tools help learners understand why mathematics is required in the real world, and give easy to understand, interactive perspectives of how to grasp different branches of mathematics. The goal of NAMA is to improve the employability of learners who use the NAMA resources, and thus to contribute to the creation of a highly skilled and capable machine tool and advanced manufacturing workforce.
The NAMA consortium has now produced a memorandum of understanding to raise awareness of the importance of numeracy skills and manufacturing-specific VET provision in Europe. With this instrument, CECIMO and its partners in NAMA intend to encourage others to join them in calling for a stronger emphasis on numeracy skills in VET education and training. The memorandum of understanding asks that signatories endorse the importance of numeracy skills in the advanced manufacturing industry and recognize the validity of the resources produced in NAMA to help address the challenge.
The European Basic Skills Network is an early signatory of the NAMA memorandum of understanding and we encourage other organisations working in basic skills or VET-related education and training to join us.
David Mallows has 30 years experience in adult education as a teacher, teacher trainer, manager and researcher. He was previously Director of Research at the National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy (NRDC) at the UCL Institute of Education, London and currently represents the European Basic Skills Network in EPALE as thematic coordinator for Life Skills.