In 2019, the Pearson BTEC Higher National (HN) team were approached by a cluster of organisations in South Wales, who had identified a skills gap within their sector.

Read more

Demand for skills

Whilst you may not have heard the term ‘semiconductors’, you will be using this technology every day; from bank cards, cars, fridges to computers and mobile phones. Everything that uses power, uses a chip. With the revolution in technologies and applications, the demand for semiconductors and the advanced compound semiconductor is increasing, including 5G, autonomous vehicles and photonic. 

Demand for a skilled workforce is high in this sector, with education seen as a route to develop specialist skills. A key challenge for the semiconductor sector is its ageing demographic and the planned expansion linked to new technologies.

As a growing sector, a cluster of specialist organisations (CS Education Group), representing each stage of the development of semiconductors identified that the current qualifications in market were not meeting sector needs. This gap which would only widen with the increasing need for understanding and development of semiconductor technologies. 

The CS Education Group, which included industry representatives, Further Education colleges, private training providers and Higher Education colleagues, created a working sub-group to identify the exact gaps. This exercise led the group to get in contact with Pearson.

As part of our Custom Designed Higher National service, we worked together to develop a new pathway within the Pearson BTEC Higher National Engineering qualifications at levels 4 and 5. The new pathway, Semiconductor Technologies, has been available for teaching since September 2020. This also aligns to Higher Education at level 6 to ensure a clear progression route.

The process of developing a custom Higher National

Working closely with CS Education Group, the development process involved adding two specialist units at level 4 and two specialist units at level 5. The rest of the structure was comprised of existing units from the Higher National in Engineering qualification.

From the Pearson perspective, it was excellent to work with the CS Education Group, as they had a clear vision of what was needed to plug the semiconductor skills gap. Furthermore, they helped to ensure that there was a clear educational pathway for students from level 2 all the way through to level 8, as well as providing progression opportunities into employment at each level. The new pathway also provides an opportunity for skilled engineers to upskill or reskill in this specialised sector.

Joanne Daniels, Learning and Development Business Partner at Newport Wafer Fab Ltd., one of the group organisations, speaks of the process being “easy”, and that the collaborative teamwork really helped to meet the target deadline for launch. 

We've created a webinar recording where Joanne shares more about the experience of designing a custom Higher National qualification:

Watch webinar recording

Benefits for both students and organisations

To assist the implementation of the new qualification, the cluster of organisations supported institutions with additional training to ensure that they were ready to teach the new pathway. Furthermore, having a standardised qualification and outcomes has really helped meet needs across the sector. Colleges and career advisors can now clearly direct students to the HN semiconductor pathway. 

Joanne states:

“The benefit for us, is that we have a skilled workforce with the right qualifications, who understands the business and advanced manufacturing environment before they actually come to us. We can see the financial benefits in several areas, as well as the improved capabilities and competency of the students that we are recruiting. It has made a significant difference to the challenge of finding skilled staff moving forward.”

Have you noticed a specific skills gap within your sector? Get in touch with us at highernationals@pearson.com to discuss.

Find out more about Custom Designed Higher Nationals