Graduates could play a crucial role in filling the skills gap

As the region’s manufacturing industry struggles to fill a growing skills gap, a strong case can be made for the importance of graduates in the field

University graduates
University graduates

With many qualified and experienced employees looking to retire in the coming years, the most glaring problem for North East industry could be a shortage of higher level capabilities.

Apprenticeships will likely play a key role, especially with a framework now in place for training of up to foundation degree level.

However, many small businesses are still missing out on what graduates have to offer - while the potential gains for graduates in the sector could potentially be immense.

“There are creative, exciting well-paid job with long-term career prospects for graduates in advanced manufacturing and engineering,” said Lynn Tomkins, UK operations director for Semta, the sector skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing.

“We want to make it easier for them to find a job, which is why we want graduates to upload their CVs.

“We will help match them with employers, support them through interviews, and hopefully into the workplace.”

Indeed, the organisation has taken proactive steps to improve the situation.

After it submitted a proposal to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) to provide small and medium sized companies with the grants to support graduate training and employment, for example, an additional 200 unemployed graduates were recruited in the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering sector within six months.

And, while only 15% of SMEs in the sector currently employ graduates, compared to 19% in all sectors, Semta has made it its aim to raise the figure to 17% over the next three years.

One initiative likely to make an impact is its Advanced Skills Accreditation Scheme, inspired by a programme run by Jaguar Land Rover, whereby companies can put their employees through particular modules of masters degrees.

This provide access to higher level learning as and when the companies need it, meaning a low-cost-high-returns method of creating skilled engineers and technical staff.

Malcom Healey, a Semta business partner who is taking the lead on the scheme, said: “It’s about making masters degree modules available to companies spefically so they can access the technical skills they need, and some management skills too.

“It only costs about £1,500, whereas a full masters degree would cost considerably more.

“It’s a cost-effective solution and can be completed in a short space of time.

“You could take a short course and do an assignment as a standalone achievement, or you can use it for credits towards a full master’s degree. It’s a very flexible approach.”

The region’s universities, likewise, seem attuned to potential of their students.

At Durham, for example, there are eight four-year MEng courses available in engineering, plus one three-year BEng course.

Of the students who left the department in 2012, 69.1% are now in full time employment, with 97% of those working at graduate level on salaries avergaging £26,000.

At Northumbria, meanwhile, a number of work-based learning courses are available, including an MSc in Professional Engineering, and the university works collaboratively with businesses to develop qualifications suited to their needs.

The same is true at Teesside, which enjoys close links with the engineering industries.

“This makes Teesside University well placed to provide a suite of engineering degrees relevant to today’s employeers,” said Dr Paul Shelton of the university’s school of science and engineering.

“We are proud of our record of placing graduates with industry.

“We also work with the Sector Skills academies to develop higher apprenticeships, allowing alternative routes for graduate enginners and we work with manufacturing SME clusters to develop flexible delivery programmes for businesses within the region.”

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