Mentoring: Be mindful of the next generation


The skills gap in engineering and manufacturing is something that’s bewildered me for a long time. It seems so avoidable, so preventable, but only if we all – the whole industry – proactively engage in finding a solution.

Time to give something back, I thought to myself recently, wondering how best to offer my knowledge and experience. Fortunately, a somewhat routine encounter with a machine tool supplier helped signpost the way. This particular company had supplied a number of machines into a nearby UTC (University Technical College), which happened to be the very one I attended some 20 years ago when it was known as Leigh City Technology College.

We got chatting and it came to light that this UTC was seeking mentors for its students, someone to help nurture and advise the 16-18 years olds as they undertake their T-Levels and seek subsequent apprenticeships. I could do that, I remember thinking, subsequently contacting the UTC by email.

Back in the early 2000s, I think my UTC was one of only nine. Today there are 47 across England educating circa 19,000 students aged 11-18. UTCs should be of enormous interest to engineering and manufacturing companies as all the students have a grounding in STEM subjects, but there’ll be more about that in my next blog.

Tour de force
Following my email, I received an invitation to tour my old school in November 2022. What a treat! Today, the workshop in particular is a revelation. There must be 15-20 Colchester lathes, five Europa mills, 10 welding bays, a Haas VMC, laser cutters for both metal and acrylic materials, a waterjet cutter, presses, tube benders and a 3D printer. The UTC even has a SolidWorks CADCAM lab. To say the youngsters looked inspired would be an understatement.

At first, I was worried about committing the time required for mentoring, but after 30 minutes on site, I thought to myself: I’ll probably be coming back here for the next 10 years. Sure enough, in a meeting that afternoon, I agreed to become a mentor.

On my next visit in January 2023 I met my mentees who are aged 16/17 and in the first year of their T-Levels. I now provide them with business and careers advice, not just about finding a good apprenticeship, but almost anything, including how to boost their confidence or conduct themselves in meetings. I even show them videos of manufacturing technologies that they’ve perhaps not encountered previously, EDM being a recent case in point.

All in a day’s work
I commit one day a month to mentoring. The days vary but typically I spend around one hour with each mentee, while also spending time with their teachers. My mentees can contact me via email at other times, always copying in teaching staff in line with safeguarding protocols.

As a business owner with a platform that gives me a voice, I take my responsibilities towards my mentees very seriously. I want them to feel there’s an adult in their life who’s not a parent or teacher, but a professional, responsible, DBS-checked person who they can use as a sounding board. I want the best for my mentees and I’m determined to make it happen.

If you like the sound of a rewarding and enjoyable role as a mentor to our next generation of engineering talent, why not enquire at your local UTC. I know for a fact they need more mentors. Along with the self-satisfaction of giving back, you’ll be helping the UK fill a long-standing skills gap that’s holding back the manufacturing sector. How? Well, you’ll just have to wait for the next blog to hear my thoughts on that subject.

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