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How schools and engineering firms should collaborate to inspire children

Carol Burke CBE, MD of Unipart Manufacturing Group

(Credit: GSK)
(Credit: GSK)

Carol Burke CBE, MD of Unipart Manufacturing Group, and one of the Prince of Wales’s Ambassadors for Industrial Cadets, looks at how to raise standards in the classroom and in training

The uncertainties of Brexit are leading engineering employers to review the robustness of their business models in many areas, but to my mind one of the most significant is the area of future skills.

Of course, we have been addressing the skills gap in UK engineering industry for many years, adopting many different approaches. Talented engineers have been attracted from overseas, internal resources have been upskilled, and the government has seen engineering and technology as key fields in which to develop apprenticeships for school leavers. Furthermore, a great deal of effort has been directed towards inspiring young people during their school careers, so they take the subjects at GCSE and A-level that will give them the qualifications they need to make a smooth transition into engineering.

As question marks appear over the future availability of overseas talent and we meet the limits of what can be achieved by internal upskilling, we need to look critically at the other options. Our industry needs to be very focused on ensuring we maximise the value we get from our engagement with young people. This means ensuring that engineering apprenticeships are plentiful at levels 4 and 5 and that we aren’t sucked into a numbers game of lower-level apprenticeships that fail to deliver properly skilled engineers at the end of the process. I also think it is fair to say that more effective activity can be undertaken by employers to engage young people while still at school.

The factors that made engineering low on the aspirational scale for most 12-year-olds were poorly understood 10 years ago and it has taken time to learn the most effective approaches. However, now we understand that effective schools work will regularly engage young people in project-based activities, will involve mentors from industry who can act as role models, and will allow young people to see the jobs that are done in their local industries, so they can visualise the types of careers that previously may have been invisible to them.

The design of activity to link business and education is crucial in all these respects, and there is a need for the maintenance of good quality and good practice to maximise the value from investment in engagement with young people in education.

I believe that the national standards frameworks embedded in the Industrial Cadet Awards offer the opportunity to provide a quality-controlled standard for the guidance of schools and employers. Through the links with the Prince of Wales, the awards enjoy a high profile which can only benefit the students and employers that are involved with them. The work by engineering employers with schools needs to be accredited as following best practice by being offered as Industrial Cadet Awards. The Industrial Cadets scheme is coordinated by education charity EDT and can be applied to any education engagement programmes meeting the framework criteria.

The government is promising a strong focus on industrial strategy to build growth post-Brexit. By pushing for higher-level apprenticeships and quality controlling our industry’s school engagement through Industrial Cadets, engineering industry can be much more confident that appropriately qualified human resources will be flowing from the education system to enable the growth we hope to see.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
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