Board Insight


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Torbay is home to a cluster of Hi-Tech businesses, many of whom are world leaders in photonics and microelectronics.

Photonics is a branch of technology focused on light. It’s a globally growing industry and is responsible for most of the modern technology we use today, covering a range of areas such as microelectronics, lasers, fibre optics, Internet of Things (IoT), mobile broadband, satellites, automotive and autonomous vehicles, and even medical equipment.
The photonics and microelectronics sector has been identified by Government as a high potential opportunity. To allow for the development of skills for continued growth in this exciting sector, South Devon College has been working closely with local businesses to develop a responsive and specialist curriculum. This training is designed to upskill existing staff and to attract new talent into an industry at the forefront of technological innovation, right on our doorstep in Torbay.

The College’s work with the Torbay Hi-Tech Cluster has involved equipping of an electronics and photonics training suite; appointment of sector specialist Associate Lecturers and the development, academic approval and delivery of a new short courses, degree and apprenticeship training programmes.

This project was made possible through investment from Devon County Council and Torbay Development Agency, with funding allowing the College to secure a specialist Skills Development Coordinator to build relationships with employers and lead on the development of curriculum.

Meeting local training needs: Photonics and Optoelectronic Training
The Photonics and Optoelectronics training is a co-designed, high-quality technical and professional suite of courses aimed at meeting the current local and regional needs. The curriculum was developed with involvement from 17 local and regional Hi-Tech Cluster businesses.

Tim Durrant, Senior Project Manager at EFFECT Photonics, said: “The College provided many of our staff with a course covering Lean Continuous Process Improvement. This was an opportunity for upskilling the manufacturing teams with up-to-date relevant methodologies. The course was well prepared and presented. It was also well received and useful to our employees and is proving to be an excellent investment for their contributions to Manufacturing and future careers.”

Employer centred higher education programmes

A key part of this project was the rewriting of University Centre South Devon’s engineering foundation degrees in partnership with THTC employers to incorporate nationally unique, photonic and microelectronics training. The new degree programmes include FdSc Engineering (Electrical Electronics) and FdSc Engineering (Photonic and Optical Electronics) and can be studied at higher apprenticeship level, allowing existing employees who might not otherwise have had an opportunity to access higher education to gain new skills, whilst maintaining employment. Approximately fifteen full time and part time (apprenticeship) students are on the five newly re-designed engineering degree programmes. Top up to full Bachelor’s Honours degree is facilitated through the College’s partnership with the University of Plymouth.

Specialist industry standard facilities

In order to facilitate this specialist training, On Thursday 5th May, South Devon College celebrated the official opening of its photonics Kao/Hockham Electronic and Photonics Training Suite; an important facility within its Hi Tech & Digital Centre that is set to raise awareness of the career opportunities in this exciting and growing sector.

Specialist skills development requires industry standard facilities and equipment. In the dedicated electronic and photonics training suite the specialist equipment was purchased using £100k of capital funding. However, an additional £80k of equipment was matched by Torbay Hi-Tech Cluster businesses including Davies and Bell, Palomar Technologies, II-VI, Lumentum and EFFECT Photonics.

The equipment installed in the training suite was purposefully designed to complement the capabilities of EPIC, supporting the collaborative relationship between the College and the Paignton based microelectronics & Tech Innovation Centre.

In his opening speech, Anthony Mangnall MP for Totnes and South Devon, said: “I’m so pleased to be here to officially open this facility because quantum and photonics are areas that we know will have a skills shortage unless we can address that. As usual, the team here have recognised that need and are taking an important step to be able to address that gap.”

Harnessing industry expertise in teaching

The new curriculum required an expansion of the knowledge base of our delivery staff. South Devon College addressed this by recruiting Associate Lecturers from Torbay Hi-Tech Cluster businesses. These Associate Lecturers have specialist subject knowledge and have been essential in our ability to redesign curriculum content and deliver the short courses. These posts are sustainable as they will be central to the delivery of our new engineering degree programmes. So that teaching and learning quality standards could be maintained, the Associate Lecturers have been mentored by experienced academic staff.

Steve Caunter, Assistant Principal at South Devon College, said: “Our students benefit from high quality teaching and learning in world leading resources, ensuring that they are developing the required skills to be successful in this exciting industry that offers rewarding and meaningful careers right here in Torbay.”

Higher education level short course

Following a period of collaborative curriculum design and development involving Torbay Hi-Tech Cluster businesses and staff from the College’s University Centre, the first cohort of students started a 15-week course to develop their understanding of Photonics Systems in February 2022.
This course became the first short course to be awarded by University Centre South Devon (part of South Devon College), with its foundation degree awarding powers.

The objective was to develop a course that would serve as an introduction to the specialist field of photonics for people with a background in engineering wanting to enter this exciting field and take advantage of the local opportunities for personal and professional development, as well as those already working in the field but wishing to further their knowledge.

Dr Phil Mitchell, Vice Chair of Torbay Hi-Tech Cluster and Technologist and Photonics Engineering Specialist at Lumentum, acted as Associate Lecturer on the course. 14 enthusiastic Lumentum industrialists attended either in person or remotely from its Paignton and Northampton sites. As well as developing their skills through structured learning, professional discussion was encouraged, allowing the students to learn from each other and to build relationships.

Dr Phil Mitchell said: “Our company has profited from participating in the Level 5 Photonic Systems Short Course. It has enabled our new starters with very little photonics experience to fast track to becoming knowledgeable in photonics systems and become contributors to the business quicker. It has also allowed some of our established employees to be promoted into positions of greater authority and responsibility capable of making informed technical decisions based on solid technical knowledge and experience.”

Laurence Frewin, Principal and CEO at South Devon College said:
This collaborative approach to addressing local skills gaps has proved to be extremely successful and is a real-life example of what can be achieved when colleges and businesses work together. Our aim is to further shape our curriculum development and strategy in engineering as well as other important local sectors.

We are dedicated to supporting the growth of the local economy, and to do that we need to work with businesses to develop the training and skills now that will be needed in five years’ time.”