Each year, the strength of overall A Level results is almost invariably viewed through a prism of university applications for academic courses. Success is seen as a rise in the numbers going on to university, and failure is by implication a fall in those numbers. However, while this is great for the young people going on to university, we need to ask ourselves: is this what our economy really needs?
We need graduate level skills, of course, and the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector is faced with pockets of high-level skills shortages. However, we hear time and time again from employers that although they are happy with the knowledge their graduates bring, they are sometimes less impressed with their soft skills and with their ability to apply that knowledge to practical work.
I was heartened by the news earlier this week that the new Skills Minister, Robert Halfon, has taken on his fourth apprentice following his appointment to his new role. Mr Halfon was the first Member of Parliament to take on an apprentice and hopefully now that he is in post, more of his colleagues will take on one of their own – at present, the proportion of MPs with an apprentice is barely one in one hundred.
Apprenticeships are, after all, a hot topic in Westminster at the moment, with the April 2017 introduction of the levy fast approaching and the Institute for Apprenticeships in the process of appointing staff and board members. While the government has a headline target of three million apprenticeship starts by 2020, and while apprenticeships have support from all parties as a way of helping the country to meet its skills needs, there’s nothing like having your own apprentice to help you to appreciate just how important they are to the individuals who go through these programmes.
I was delighted today to address a Westminster Business Forum event on High Value Manufacturing in the UK and the next steps for investment, innovation and competitiveness. I focused in my speech on how the sector can face up to the challenge of high-level STEM skills shortages by making the best use of the apprenticeship levy all employers with a paybill of over £3 million a year will from April 2017 will have to pay. The sector has a long and proud tradition of apprenticeships - Semta's Chairman, Allan Cook CBE, started his working life as an apprentice engineer.
With the recent referendum result and the introduction of the non-EU worker levy of £1,000 per head, employers will have to look to the UK to provide the skills needed to ensure that engineering and manufacturing continue to thrive. If employers cannot find a supply of individuals to fill vacancies from the existing pool of workers, they will instead have to grow their own. The apprenticeship levy will provide an opportunity to do just that - employers will be paying it on any paybill above £3 million and, as it will then operate on a "use it or lose it" basis, they will have a strong incentive to make the very best use of the apprenticeship vouchers they get back.
Guest blog by IAC members Lizzie Moffatt and John Coombes
It's been a real pleasure for us to be members of the Industry Apprentice Council, and speaking at the launch of the group's third annual report last week at The Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) was the icing on the cake. The challenge now, for us and for the new members who have agreed to join is to build on the positivity and goodwill we saw at the launch and turn it into action which gets our Five Point Plan implemented and heard across the UK.
The Five Point Plan, put together by the 1,543 apprentices who responded to the annual survey underpinning the report and strongly endorsed by the hundred attending the launch, is a credible, deliverable plan to protect and enhance the status of apprenticeships and the apprentice experience – not just across the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector we are building our careers in, but across all other sectors, too.
It’s a well-rehearsed script by now, but as it’s National Women in Engineering Day it’s well worth running through once again the top three reasons that it is so crucial that we up the numbers and proportion of women in engineering – from the nine per cent of the sector’s workforce women comprise at present, to as close to half of it as possible.
One – we have an almighty skills shortage, it is well documented that we need some 830,000 science, engineering and technology (SET) professionals and 800,000 STEM graduates by 2020 to meet employer demand.
Two – broadening the talent pool would inject creativity and new ideas into an engineering sector which relies on those things to remain world-leading.
Three – we cannot afford, as a country, to waste the potential of girls who might be inclined towards a STEM career. If we increased the number of women in STEM to match the number of men it’d be worth some £2bn per year to the UK economy – that is not an inconsequential sum of money, which could be used to build the schools and hospitals we all rely upon.
Guest Blog by Alison Fuller, University College London Institute of Education and Member of the Semta Board
As a very recent addition to the Semta board, I don’t pretend to know everything about the organisation, but my 25 years of researching and analysing the Vocational Education and Training (VET) landscape mean I’m well placed to understand what Semta is trying to achieve. I’m pleased to say that I think it’s on the right track. Engineering and advanced manufacturing is leading the way when it comes to VET and other sectors could learn much from its achievements.
Before I say too much more about Semta’s work, I’d like to tell you a bit more about my own. I currently work for University College London, where I have two distinct roles. Firstly, I’m Pro-Director of Research and Development at UCL Institute of Education. This involves creating a great environment for colleagues to undertake research, collaborating with others to develop research strategy, evaluating research performance, liaising with our funding bodies and stakeholders, and ensuring that our research findings are effectively disseminated. My second role is Professor of Vocational Education and Work, through which I undertake research into education – work transitions, apprenticeship and workplace learning – which feeds into public policy and influences employment and VET practice.
Guest blog by Semta board member and Chair of the Automotive Industrial Partnership, Jo Lopes, Jaguar Land Rover
My career with Jaguar Land Rover to date has been both long and rewarding. By contrast, my time on the Semta Board has been comparatively short, but nonetheless incredibly interesting. It's an exciting time to be part of the team helping to steer Semta's future direction. I firmly believe it is the collaboration within our multi-disciplinary team that makes it effective, just as it is the partnership approach that Semta takes with industry, education and government that enables it to successfully support the sector.
Having joined Jaguar Land Rover as a graduate in 1989, I've witnessed many changes in the automotive industry, not least in the range and level of skills the sector demands. The transition from a largely mechanical skillset to a focus on software, electronics and mechatronics has occurred at unprecedented pace.
National Apprenticeship Week is with us once again and I was delighted to be asked to contribute to the national debate. My article in the Independent on Sunday supplement yesterday was a fantastic opportunity to shine a light on Apprenticeships within our sector and hold them up as rigorous and rewarding routes to career success. The engineering and advanced manufacturing sector has always led the way in Apprenticeship development and delivery and can, I believe, act as an exemplar of quality to other sectors.
I hope that the time will come – and in the not too distant future – when we can cease to have the parity of esteem conversation. But for the moment, it is important to keep pushing this message to young people, parents, teachers and other influencers. This is why I was gratified to hear the recent announcement from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan on introducing legislation to outlaw academic 'snobbery' and ensure pupils and students can make informed choices.
Huge thanks to everyone who attended the Semta Skills Awards on Wednesday and made it such a resounding success. The previous two years took some beating, but I think everyone will agree that's just what we achieved. The effort from our marketing and communications team over the last six months certainly paid off.
It was fantastic to be surrounded by so many people with a collective passion for British engineering. We have much to be proud of and that was very evident last night. Hearing the finalists' stories was so inspiring and the industry judging panel had some very tough decisions when selecting their winners. All the finalists deserve recognition, we receive hundreds of applications and to make it to the last 27 they should be immensely proud which is why I'm delighted that we've now introduced the Highly Commended certificate to acknowledge their achievements.
As a relatively recent addition to the Semta board, I'm delighted to have this opportunity to introduce myself and talk a bit about the current engineering skills landscape. Semta's aims and aspirations are very close to my heart and I'm pleased to be in a position to help support and steer the organisation forward.
I've held a range of learning and development positions over the years and with Siemens, have been lucky enough to travel the world. Seeing other vocational education systems in action is fascinating. While this has inevitably led to comparisons with the UK, I'm inclined to think these comparisons are unhelpful. I've always been particularly vexed by the assertion that we should be emulating the German model. I have sound reasons for this opinion, but should perhaps explain my skills credentials first.
At its heart, Semta is an employer organisation. We exist to serve the skills needs of industry and ensure UK plc has the skilled workforce it needs to grow and thrive. Our employer-focused credentials are exemplified by our Board. We're fortunate to have the expertise of a range of top industrialists from some of the country's leading organisations to call upon.
Despite the ever more complex nature of the skills landscape, we work hard to decipher and influence skills policy for the benefit of the sector and are kept grounded in operational reality by the employers at our core and the employers we work with.
There are only a few days left to nominate for the Semta Skills Awards 2016, so get your entry in by 30 November to be part of THE event of the engineering awards calendar!
Our Awards' host, the BBC's Steph McGovern, is adding her call for nominations – watch now.
Ensuring the sector has the skills it needs to thrive now and in the future relies on the commitment of individuals and organisations to skills development. We know this commitment is prevalent across our sector and that's what the Semta Skills Awards seek to recognise and reward.
I was delighted to attend The Skills Show last week where the WorldSkills UK finals were taking place. The talented individuals that were competing to be the best of the best in their chosen discipline never fail to impress. They demonstrate a level of enthusiasm and commitment that is genuinely inspiring. I certainly hope that this proved to be the case for the 80,000 visitors that came through the NEC's doors over the four day period.
Semta is the organising partner for 11 engineering categories in which more than 130 finalists were competing for their place in Squad UK.
Work experience is a win-win for both young people and employers. Young people get an invaluable insight into potential careers and the world of work. Employers can promote their exciting career opportunities and identify future talent for their organisation.
The fact that so many employers (42%) cite difficulties in recruiting people with the right STEM skills means every opportunity to enthuse the next generation and secure the future STEM talent pipeline should be welcomed. It is in this vein that Semta has launched The STEM Experience.
You and your colleagues work hard day in, day out. The pressure of getting the job done is ever present. But I'd encourage you to step back for a moment, reflect on your achievements and have your efforts recognised by entering the 2016 Semta Skills Awards.
The Awards celebrate the 'Best of British Engineering, shining a spotlight on those individuals and companies that make this sector such an exciting and dynamic place to work. This is about recognising a significant commitment to skills development, whether it's your own company or your training partner, a skills champion within your organisation or your talented apprentices and graduates that have seized the opportunity for self-development. I would urge as many of you as possible to put yourself, your colleagues or your company forward for an award. Take a look at the eight categories here.
It's A Level results day, and the pleasing headline news from an engineering skills point of view is that the number of young people going to university to study Engineering is up 9% year on year.
However, at the time of writing, there were still 228 Engineering degree courses with places available through Clearing – some of them at prestigious Russell Group universities like Manchester and Warwick. We need to ask why so many engineering courses remain unfilled given that this is a record-breaking year for acceptances, with over 400,000 young people so far being offered places at university.
Be proud people – be mightily proud.
Forget the Olympics or The World Cup Finals, THE most important international competition of all is about to begin in Brazil.
Team UK – the crème de la crème of young apprentices – leaves today for Sao Paulo (Friday 7th August) to do battle with the world's best.
Semta plays a pivotal part in selecting the very best young engineers that this country has to offer by running the exhaustive competition process – which has taken the team from National Finals in Birmingham all the way to Brazil.
In my last blog piece, I warned that there were a number of unanswered questions surrounding the government's planned apprenticeship levy on large employers. While there do remain a number of unanswered questions, I am pleased that we have started to see a little bit of clarity coming from the government regarding some of the finer details of this policy – although some of the answers provided lead to further questions.
We now know that leftover levy funds will not be diverted to support small, medium and large enterprises (SMEs); SMEs will instead be supported through the new digital voucher system. Nor will they be used for any other sectoral benefit. We know, too, that there will be no cap on the number of apprentices that large employers can recruit and train. When considered together, this really heightens the risk that the levy system will make it more difficult for SMEs to recruit the apprentices they need, and makes it more likely that some will need to rely on former apprentices of large employers who may not have the right skills and expertise for their particular needs.
Two weeks on from the announcement in the Budget of an apprenticeship levy, there are many questions which need to be answered by the government. Employers in the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector need to be able to plan ahead if they are to meet their own skills needs, and if they do not adequately understand the ramifications of this policy ahead of its introduction they will find it difficult to do that planning.
We still don’t know whether the levy will apply in England only, in England and Wales, or in all four of the UK nations. If it is to apply across all four nations, we don’t know how it will be collected and distributed; if the UK government takes it upon itself to distribute the cash, there will be obvious knock-on effects to the apprenticeship policies already laid out by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If it only applies in England, meanwhile, we don’t know whether employers will be able to claim from the fund for their apprentices in other UK nations.
Before the Budget, Semta cautioned a further cut to the further education budget on the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector. In the end no such cut announced in the speech itself or in the Treasury's Red Book. However, there was one surprise announcement that could have a real impact for our sector and which, at first glance, seems to be more applicable to other sectors than to our own: the apprenticeship levy on large employers.
Large employers in advanced manufacturing and engineering already understand the value of apprentices and invest huge amounts of time and money in their programmes. I know from experience that captains of industry see their apprentices as loyal, enthusiastic and capable. In fact many of them like our own Chairman started their careers as apprentices. They don't need to be incentivised to take on apprentices with a levy, because they already see apprentices as the way to grow their own talent. That's why BAE Systems, for example, has pledged to take on 710 apprentices this year (a new record for the company); it's why 30% of Rolls Royce's senior management team started out with the company as apprentices; it's why Airbus was the first company, back in 1998, to introduce a Higher Apprenticeship. It's thanks to companies like these that while just 10% of the whole UK workforce has completed an apprenticeship, 26% of those in advanced manufacturing and engineering have done so.