The skills gap: we all want closure


In my previous blog I spoke about my role as a mentor to UTC (University Technical College) students. Here, I’ll explain why giving an apprenticeship to a UTC student can help the UK close the skills gap and promote this country up the global league of manufacturing nations.

Part of my reason for agreeing to become a UTC mentor was to get a better understanding of the education system for technical subjects and why the uptake of skills is falling short. For 20 years I’ve sat in meeting after meeting hearing that no one can find any youngsters with good knowledge of engineering subjects. Or that youngsters are not interested in manufacturing. Or, from the students’ perspective, there’s no jobs available in engineering. It’s clear to me that something is fundamentally wrong. Something that we have to put right.

My UTC mentees are very engaged in engineering. They blow my mind with some of the things they say and do but, in truth, they’re worried. All of them are concerned there are no opportunities waiting for them at the end of their T-Levels. Maybe companies are not connecting properly with education establishments and their students, which is a shame because we should be telling them about real jobs that are available. Better engagement would make engineering students feel more wanted.

Helping hands
UTC students are hands-on, spending their days manufacturing components and products from raw material in workshops equipped with the latest production technologies. Clearly, finding good, inspirational, challenging apprenticeships at the end of their T-Levels is important. UTC students should appeal to manufacturers. They aren’t going to walk into the workshop and say they don’t like the noise or the smell; they’ve already spent a number of years in the workshop environment.

Companies within the engineering and manufacturing sectors shouldn’t assume that youngsters aren’t interested in engineering, or that schools don’t do enough. I’ve seen with my own eyes how much investment and resource is going into UTC students.

So, how do we better connect UTC students and manufacturers, and help close the skills gap? OK, closing the skills gap might sound like a throw-away comment that anyone could make, but I believe we can, particularly with the help of new technology. Today we buy cars from videos on the internet, without seeing them in person, and machine tools. Why can’t we make better use of social media to provide a showcase of young UTC engineers? All through official channels in a safeguarded way, of course.

Conversion factor

In my opinion, youngsters on T-Level courses are 90% of the way to being engineers. We’re falling short big time if we don’t convert these students through to manufacturing jobs.

For any manufacturers worried about the cost commitment, listen up. UTC students will only be successful in their T-Levels if they complete a 45-day work placement. This is an opportunity for manufacturers to “try before they buy” without any commitment other than their time. They do not have to pay the student a wage; in fact they get a £1000 bursary just for taking one. The 45 days can even take place in phases if that’s preferable. What have you got to lose? If you can offer a 45-day placement to an engineering student, please get in touch with your local UTC. There are 47 across England.

I myself am a product of the UTC (or what was the ‘City Technology College’) system as it was previously known. In the next blog I’ll outline my journey from education to present day as a business owner with a highly successful media platform serving the manufacturing sector.

It’s been quite a ride.

Laura Crawford, Founder – Machinery & Manufacturing

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