Creative thinking lies at the heart of innovation and helps businesses and organisations to be competitive and successful. Innovation is not just about thinking of new ideas or concepts it is also about applying them and taking them to the marketplace.

A culture of innovation drives the development of new products and processes and improves business effectiveness and efficiency. It is not always about new and radical inventions; new processes and ways of working within an individual business can be seen as innovative.

The increasingly rapid pace of technological change and digitalisation of products and processes has raised the demand for innovation skills and competencies. It is always a challenge for businesses to make sure that their staff can keep pace with the speed of change.

For the Liverpool City Region, innovation is a part of its DNA and its record continues with world leading facilities and businesses that provide exciting opportunities such as the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine led iiCON programme; Materials Innovation Factory; Sci-Tech Daresbury; The Knowledge Quarter; Jaguar Land Rover; Astra Zeneca; Alstom; Pilkington and Unilever to name but a few.

Innovation is taking place across the City Region within all sectors and industries but particularly in the areas of Advanced Manufacturing and Big Science; Low Carbon and Renewable Energy; Digital and Creative; Maritime and Logistics and Health and Life Sciences.

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Definitions of Innovation:

‘Innovative active’ firms are introducing new products or processes, are engaged in innovation projects or improved forms of organisation, business structures or practices for commercial gain. BEIS, UK Innovation Survey4 

Innovation is “the means by which the entrepreneur either creates new wealth-producing resources or endows existing resources with enhanced potential for creating wealth.” Peter Drucker,  Harvard Business Review5 

“Innovation depends on people who are able to generate and apply knowledge and ideas in the workplace and in society at large. Innovation means the introduction of ‘new to the firm’ products and processes rather than radical inventions.” OECD, Skills for Innovation and Research6

LCR Innovation economy:

Cultivating innovation is vital for the future performance of the City Region and the national economy. The UK Government Industrial Strategy1 identifies the generation and application of ideas as central to both improving labour market performance and realising the full economic potential of international trade. In a context of changing global markets, uncertain relationships within Europe and where digital technologies are fundamentally changing the nature of work across all sectors, it is increasingly important that the UK embraces innovation as a foundation of future economic competitiveness. 

The Liverpool City Region has an ambitious agenda for economic growth,2 focusing on attracting major investment and expanding high value added business activity. Fully realising this agenda offers the potential to transform the economy over the next 25 years: to create an additional 100,000 jobs; to achieve a net increase of 20,000 businesses; increased resident population growth of 50,000 people; and a near doubling of the size of the economy to £50 billion.

Achieving these targets, to secure the future performance of the economy, relies upon a step change in the global competitiveness of the City Region through a collective effort to raise the productivity of business and workers and the creation of infrastructure able to catalyse and capture growth. At the heart of this approach is embedding innovation into the practices of businesses across the City Region economy. Building a culture of innovation that drives the development of new products and processes, improving business efficiency and effectiveness through the application of technology and secures access to emerging and existing markets; creating the conditions to fully realise the City Region’s economic targets.

Innovation Skills:

Innovation is realised through creative thinking, refining business practices and applying new ideas to generate commercial gain or improved service delivery. Innovation is different from invention as it is the application of new thinking to create value – as illustrated in Box. While definitions and measures of innovation vary across contexts and operate differently depending on business activity and work tasks, innovation relies on the human ability to imagine improvements to business processes and applications of new technologies to achieve efficiencies or access to new markets. Innovation skills are present in the overlap between work specific knowledge and individual competences, such as questioning, problem solving, and creativity applied in practice.

Innovation as a practical process of adding value can vary greatly in its scale, type and impact on commercial performance. Innovation can be disruptive causing a major change in the activity and operation of business activity, where new services or products are devised, or technology is used to transform production processes. Innovation can also be incremental, where small scale improvements, adaptations or investments in workforce skills consolidate or boost the competitive position of businesses.

An area of key importance for generating problem solving, creative thinking and team work skills needed for innovation is the involvement of employers in education. As indicated in the Gatsby Standards,29 adopted for careers education within the Liverpool City Region through the establishment of a Careers Hub,30 every pupil should have multiple opportunities to learn from employers about work and the skills valued in the workplace. Enrichment activity including talks, work experience, visits, challenge projects and the integration of industry-relevant problem solving across the curriculum, can help build vital skills and the aspirations of pupils improve attainment to access their favoured careers.

For new entrants to employment and for members of the existing workforce, vocational training provides a flexible way to tailor provision to the specific needs of businesses and to combine classroom and applied learning in ways directly relevant to work roles. Of particular importance is Apprenticeships, as they offer a way to integrate high quality technical training with workplace practices and culture that encourage critical thinking and innovation. Nationally, Apprenticeships have been positioned as a key method to improve workforce skills and productivity. However there remain a number of issues about the cost of Apprenticeships and the speed that new standards can be developed to meet employer needs. The skills system within the City Region needs to adapt and innovate in order to drive improvements in the delivery of skills training.

Using Apprenticeships to Meet Skill Needs:

Leading City Region employers including IBM and STFC at Daresbury are using Apprenticeship standards to attract new technicians and engineers into science and technology careers and to up-skill members of the existing workforce. IBM has adopted Apprenticeships to recruit about 30 per cent of new starts for the company nationally. They are using Level 3 and 4 Apprenticeships and degree Apprenticeships to fill vacancies across the organisation and are also supporting existing staff with Level 7 Apprenticeships (Masters level equivalent) to obtain management level qualification. STFC at Daresbury is also using Apprenticeships at a number of levels to fill existing technician vacancies and to upskill existing staff. The use of Apprenticeships provides a means for STFC to fill diverse engineering and support roles available, to work with employers and universities on developing new standards to meet shortage areas, such as big data processing and cyber security, and to network employers on the Daresbury campus to pool recruitment activity and create opportunities for apprentices to gain experience across a range of workplaces.