We need to start valuing our talent believes Semta chief

Semta’s chief executive, Sarah Sillars, OBE, examines the poor state of careers advice which is blocking so many young people’s path to a fulfilling career

Nicole Gallagher had various jobs after studying at college but took up an apprentice programme to become a mechanic
Nicole Gallagher had various jobs after studying at college but took up an apprentice programme to become a mechanic

Not before time, young people have a national voice and the ear of Government - but how long will it be before everyone starts listening?

Time and again, when talking to bright, talented youngsters, I hear tales of academic snobbery – career advisers actively obstructing them from taking a vocational qualification and a career in industry.

Many are being driven into higher education so schools can simply tick a box to say a pupil has gone to university – but it shouldn’t be about the school. It is about the young people and ensuring we have a highly skilled workforce in engineering and manufacturing now and in the longer term.

Of course industry needs the best graduates – far too many of those taking STEM subjects are lost to other sectors of the economy – but we cannot allow the poor advice to suppress the ambitions of our young people who can’t or don’t want to go to university.

We need a huge shift in emphasis to redress the balance and build a proper skills pipeline - where young people are inspired to follow a career path without incurring massive debt.

Youth unemployment is high yet companies report vacancies as difficult to fill. If ever there was an opportunity to bring together education and industry, to ensure we create a positive environment for learning while earning, it is now.

And it is not just our sector. The CIPD has called on its members to deliver CV workshops and mock interviews as part of Inspiring the Future – an initiative set up by the Education and Employers Taskforce in 2012. The campaign already encourages businesses to visit schools to deliver career talks, advising students on what educational or training paths they could pursue to work in those industries.

A report from the CIPD, Employers are from Mars, Young People are from Venus, highlighted a lack of careers advice and guidance in schools as one of the core problems, adding that many young people were leaving education without an understanding of the world of business.

It is something the young people on the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC) have set as a challenge to overcome.

The IAC is made up of 14 apprentices from some of the UK’s biggest employers and aims to highlight the benefits of apprenticeships in order to help change perceptions and show they are a first-class route into a highly skilled and fulfilling career.

Brought together by EAL (Excellence, Achievement and Learning Limited), the specialist awarding organisation for industry qualifications, and IMI Awards (The Institute of the Motor Industry), the leading awarding body for the retail motor industry, the apprentices are keen to get their voices heard. They have been less than complimentary about the advice they received.

One member said: “I didn’t want to go into higher education. I thought going into an apprenticeship I could earn a wage and learn a skill and that was a good option. But at school I didn’t get any information about apprenticeships and careers fairs seemed to be people ‘out on a jolly’ rather than finding out more about apprenticeships.”

It is a complaint I hear time and again, a damning indictment of the ignorance which still exists about the true value of apprenticeships.

The group has already been sharing their experiences, ideas and recommendations in Parliament – including speaking with Skills Minister Matthew Hancock.

The words of the youngsters send a powerful message – we need to listen and support them and their peers in their efforts.

There are countless examples of apprentices doing brilliant things – they are the new high achievers. Together they are making millions of pounds for the UK’s economy and growing skills at home saves millions of pounds in recruitment costs.

We simply cannot allow the poor careers advice to be continually served up if we are to make the most of the abundance of talent which undoubtedly exists in classrooms throughout the UK.


Semta is responsible for engineering skills for the future of the UK’s most advanced sectors.

Led by employers, its job is to transform the skills and productivity of the people who power our engineering, science and manufacturing technologies sectors, enabling UK industry to compete on the global stage.

It brings together employers and education to focus action on skills. Our employer-skills solutions and pan-industry initiatives help equip people at all levels of the workforce with vital skills and attract the best new entrants to create the highly skilled, dynamic workforce needed to re-energise UK industry and drive its future success.


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