North East business leaders wait to see which party will do more to address engineering skills shortage

With less than three months to go until the general election, business leaders are waiting to see which political party will do more to address the country's engineering skills shortage

Companies that have adopted apprenticeships will be rewarded at the 2014 North East Business Awards
Companies that have adopted apprenticeships will be rewarded at the 2014 North East Business Awards

Employers continually complain of shortages of skills and politicians criticise the quality of careers education. Unfortunately, their fault-finding is not without foundation.

A recent survey of UK engineers reveals only one in four (26%) believe efforts to rebalance the economy towards industry and manufacturing are working.

Boosting training in engineering and apprenticeships should be a focus for 2015 party political manifestos if the UK is to maintain its industry-led recovery, according to a survey of more than 3,500 UK engineers.

The survey, by engineering recruitment specialist Matchtech, reveals that only around one in four (26%) engineers believe government actions to encourage engineering innovation and investment to rebalance the economy are working, while 41% believe they are having little impact.

Instead, engineers are calling on the parties to focus on training and creating a new generation of talent to sustain the engineering recovery.

More than two-fifths (41% of engineers) want to see greater investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) apprenticeship schemes, with more than a quarter (26%) wanting reduced university fees or greater financial support for those studying STEM subjects.

More than a quarter (26%) want to see politicians setting out a clear energy infrastructure strategy for the UK, with 25% also wanting increased infrastructure investment as a foundation for future economic growth. A fifth (21%) also want to see political manifestos committing to greater tax breaks and subsidies for organisations investing in engineering and industrial R&D.

The North East has the highest proportion of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) and the lowest percentage going to top-third most selective higher education institutions (17% compared to 23% nationally).

The region’s young people are the least likely to continue with science and modern foreign languages, despite recent surveys showing that these are the in-demand subjects for employers.

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

SCHOOLS NorthEast, the first and only school-led regional network in the UK, is hoping to address the skills gap by bringing together teachers and senior leaders from across the region to discuss how to best prepare young people for life after school and the world of work.

More than 100 delegates will today gather at the Xcel Centre in Newton Aycliffe for the FutureReady conference.

Organised in partnership with the National Careers Service, the event will focus on the knowledge and experiences, along with the key attributes and attitudes, that a young person needs to succeed in work.

Delegates will be joined by national experts and local practitioners who will give advice on how to improve careers education, develop and instil employability skills and forge closer links with employers.

With research showing that young people’s perceptions of their future career opportunities are fixed from as early as 11 years old, Future Ready includes targeted sessions to help schools inspire and support the aspirations of younger pupils.

Delegates will discuss the “State of the Region”, exploring social and economic trends in the North East.

They will hear new announcements on funding opportunities and learn about programmes available to the region’s schools and students. They will also be challenged by myth-busting sessions exploring whether young people in the North East do actually suffer from low aspirations and how schools can combat career stereotypes.

Rebecca Earnshaw, director of SCHOOLS NorthEast, said: “The future of our region is in school. The skills and ambitions of the young people sitting in our classrooms today will shape the prosperity and competitiveness of the North East in the 21st Century.

“Education is everyone’s business and the statistics illustrate the enormity of the challenge. Half of our workforce today is educated to A-level standard; by 2020 75% of jobs will require at least this level.

“It is in all our interests to ensure that our young people are confident, skilled, enterprising and well-prepared to succeed in an increasingly competitive and challenging labour market.

“Ensuring that young people get the right careers inspiration, education and advice, from the earliest opportunity, is an important first step.

“Schools understand the importance of this challenge but cannot do it alone. They need to work with employers and support organisations like the National Careers Service so that the young people in their schools are informed to make the right choices for their futures.

“At SCHOOLS NorthEast, our ambition is for young people in the North East to be the most work-ready students in England. Future Ready will bring together leading educationalists and senior leaders from both primary and secondary schools in order to develop an action plan to support and nurture our young people from cradle to career. We hope to make this an annual event, growing it into the biggest event of its kind in the country.”

Higher level apprenticeships offer a real alternative choice to both employers and learners
Higher level apprenticeships offer a real alternative choice to both employers and learners

Discovery School opened in the heart of Newcastle last September with the aim of meeting the skills gap and preparing young people aged between 14 and 19 for the STEM industries.

It takes students from across Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham who want to work in science, technology, engineering and maths. Crucially, it works with a number of leading businesses to ensure the curriculum it offers is relevant and challenging.

Siemens, Ryder Architecture, Piramal Healthcare, Nissan, Dyer Engineering and domnick hunter Filtration and Separation Division, which is part of Parker Hannifin, are just some of the businesses working with the school.

While the curriculum includes all of the usual subjects, such as English, humanities and languages, it is delivered in a totally different way, with many lessons taking the form of hands-on projects, based in labs and workshops, rather than classrooms.

Graeme Parkins, joint owner of Dyer Engineering in County Durham, said he had joined forces with Discovery School in a bid to encourage more young people to enter the profession.

“I think there is a big problem with our education sector because it isn’t linking up with industry and responding to the needs of businesses,” he said.

“We have countless jobs and opportunities, but we do not have the talent coming through and that is a big problem.

“We have the space, the machinery, the clients and the vacancies for graduates and apprentices, but we do not see the people.”

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