Semta's Chief Executive Ann Watson shares her views on the latest news, policy, issues and events of interest to the engineering and advanced manufacturing sector. 


There’s no substitute for experience, as the old maxim goes. To fully understand any profession, it’s important to see it up close for yourself – and that’s even more true for engineering. However, we know that despite determined marketing efforts, and despite changing the way we talk about our sector, old stereotypes still exist.

Making a success of the latest and perhaps greatest of these campaigns to change the way engineering is viewed by society, the government-supported Year of Engineering, is critical if we are going to have a hope of beating the engineering skills shortage. The core aim of the campaign is to facilitate one million engagements between young people and engineering employers in 2018. To do this, we need teachers and tutors to be on board.

In the end, the Chancellor was as good as his word and the Spring Statement provided more of a ‘health check’ for the UK economy than the more radical surgery we’ve become accustomed to. The Chancellor said he was feeling ‘positively Tiggerish’, and the Statement he delivered was full of optimism.

The Statement was short on new announcements - £80m to help SMEs to access apprenticeships turned out to be coming from existing spending commitments, although the clarification that the money will be used in that way is still very welcome (especially for an advanced manufacturing and engineering sector where more than half of the workforce is with an SME or micro-sized company).

Guest Blog by Alex Deakin, Degree Apprentice, Jaguar Land Rover

4 years as a Jaguar Land Rover Apprentice - Worth it.

Hello everyone I hope you are getting stuck into the National apprenticeship week festivities. I am an engineering apprentice who has been working at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) for the last 4 years. I am working in the supplier technical assistance department that deals with supply chain issues and ensures quality parts are delivered to the assembly line. At the same time, I am completing my degree at Warwick University which is sponsored by the company so is fantastic in that respect.

The best thing about working at Jaguar Land Rover is working on luxury products and knowing that you made a small contribution to the final outcome. As an example I was working on onboarding suppliers with a project management tool for the new electric Jaguar I-Pace that was launched on March the 1st this year. I can therefore say I had a part to do with the making of that! The hardest part of being an apprentice is it can be difficult at times to balance working full time and studying. There are some other apprentices who have young kids and I honestly don't know how they manage it! In the end though it is definitely worth it because you get sponsored through the degree and get paid really well. My starting salary was around £18,000 and I am now on over £25,000, not bad after coming straight out of A-levels.

Guest Blog by Millie Coombes, Rail Telecoms Design Engineer, Atkins

Millie PicMy current apprenticeship started as a two year Level 3 Apprenticeship, where I was undertaking part time study to attain my BTEC Level 3 in Electrical and Electronic Engineering alongside an NVQ Extended Diploma in Technical Support Level 3. I am now undertaking a Degree Apprenticeship in Digital and Technology Solutions (Cyber Security Pathway).

Since beginning my apprenticeship with Atkins in September 2015 I have been given numerous opportunities to travel around the country and work on a vast number of projects. These include Crossrail and HS2 alongside some smaller projects, but no matter the project I have been able to consistently improve my knowledge and responsibility from day one. In addition to my day job I have been lucky enough to get involved with the apprentice community within Atkins working with the Atkins APA Transportation Forum and outside with the Industry Apprentice Council. Both of these opportunities have been very rewarding enabling me to see the talent within industry and be a part of exciting changes and discussions regarding the future.

Guest Blog by Helen Brindley, Degree Apprentice, Siemens plc

Helen picI can’t remember a time when I didn’t take things apart to see why they worked as they did. This was then enhanced when I started high school at a (back then) technology school, the facilities were great and the support I received in pursuing this further was outstanding. However, I was lucky in the respect that my school had careers adviser employed full time who was always on hand to offer advice and support.

I was given the opportunity to take part in the Make it Challenge this is an enterprising engineering challenge that a number of schools took part in. My school team of 8 not only won the semi-finals but went on win the finals. I was given the chance to undertake 2 work experiences. The first, a 2 week work experience at a small engineering firm in Cheshire and the second, a week run by Jaguar Land Rover aimed at getting more women into engineering.

Hannah PicGuest Blog by Hannah Naqwi, Technical Advanced Apprentice, Rolls-Royce Plc

Age: 18

Title of apprenticeship: Advanced Technical Apprenticeship

Year of apprenticeship: Year 2 – 2016 intake

Why did you choose / what inspired you to become an apprentice?

I have always been interested in engineering as when I was young I always liked to build models at home and when I was in year 9 I applied for the Young Apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce. When I got accepted, I was so excited as I knew it was such an amazing opportunity. I came to Rolls-Royce once a week during my GCSEs where I completed numerous sections such as turning, electronics and welding. We also completed a BTEC level 2 with Derby College. During the Young Apprenticeship, I decided to apply for the full time Advanced Technical Apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce because I had enjoyed the Young Apprenticeship so much. I had to go through a long interview process but it was worth it as I ended up getting offered the job.

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If you are in any doubt as to the value of engineering apprenticeships, a quick introduction to Judith Mair will be all you need to dispel those doubts for good. Judith has gone from leaving school in her village in North East Scotland, unsure of her options, to an apprenticeship with Rolls-Royce in Derby and, last week, became our Apprentice of the Year and our Best of British Engineering at the 2018 Semta Skills Awards.

Judith’s journey is an inspiring one – and although there could only be one winner last week, there are thousands of young people out there whose lives have been transformed by the engineering apprenticeships they have chosen to do. It’s fantastic timing to now be celebrating National Apprenticeship Week, in which we can celebrate the achievements and the journeys of all of the apprentices in engineering and beyond.

Naomi picGuest Blog by Naomi Browne, Building Surveyor Degree Apprentice, Faithful Gould

This time last year, I was an A Level student preparing for my exams and seriously considering what my future would hold beyond the Summer.

Building surveying was (and still is) my interest. I liked the idea of understanding the way the elements of a building work together and how to get the most out of them. It was slightly different from my original plans in psychology, sport and fashion, but something I wanted to pursue. Originally, I heard about it online and then did some work experience to make sure that I was ready to invest time into it. During these placements, I was introduced to the idea of apprenticeships.

Mark StewartGuest Blog by Mark Stewart, HR Director and Country Manager at Airbus UK

Aerospace operates in a very regulatory environment and for obvious reasons the safety and quality of our aircraft are of paramount importance to us. Because we take safety so seriously, millions of people each year can fly on an Airbus plane in full confidence that it has been put together and maintained properly and will get them to their destination.

We in Airbus operate globally and, as a global company, we know that learning, skills and qualifications awarded in the UK are well recognised as being a good indicator of capability and competency in other countries.It’s important that in looking to refresh and improve the current approach to education and learning, we do not lose sight of the needs of employers, who ultimately have to be confident in the quality of the end product so that they can be certain those they recruit will meet their standards.


To mark the Year of Engineering we have a guest blog from our Chair, Dame Judith Hackitt. In this Q&A inteview Dame Judith explains why she chose engineering as a career route and what her Year of Engineering plans are.



Q: What inspired you to become an engineer?

A: A love of science! Wanting to use science to find practical solutions and applying science in the real world.

I always knew in school that I really enjoyed science and that was going to be part of my life. Initially I thought I would become a teacher. I was interested in wanting to know how to explain things, especially why science was so important to the world. I always wanted to help inspire others to like science as much as I did. I decided to study engineering at university, and having done my engineering degree and going out to work in industry I enjoyed it so much that I gave up on becoming a teacher. And I've loved it, absolutely loved it!

Q: Describe engineering in 3 words?

A: Problem-solving, creative and teamwork

The future of engineering is digital. As the Made Smarter Review published last year makes clear, UK engineering is going to need a major influx of digital skills to meet employer need in the coming year. The Review offers a roadmap to a million workers in industry being upskilled so that digital technologies can be effectively embedded, making UK engineering a more productive and more prosperous sector.

Cyber security, AI and machine learning, the IoT and data analytics, additive manufacturing, and robotics and automation are identified in the course of the review as being areas of high priority. (On the latter, Semta’s sister organisation EAL has just launched the UK’s first Level 3 robotics and automation qualification.)

Monday, 15 January 2018 00:00

The year of engineering is here!

Guest blog by Ryan Carey, Project Management Degree Apprentice, BAE Systems

CM037516.RyanCarey-206smallAt school we were just given two bits of advice. One, get a career. Two, go to university. There was little else outside the university route, so it was difficult to figure out just what to do next on your own. Think back to when you were a teenager. Did you know, for sure, what you wanted to do when you left school? Did you have a clear sense of what the working world was like, and what employers were going to want from you?

We could do so much better to inform future students about apprenticeships. I had no advice about apprenticeships, so learning about them wasn't easy at first. But fortunately, there's so much fantastic information online now – if you're motivated, you can unearth all sorts of opportunities. I had that motivation, so I found it. For those who could benefit from a little guidance and a little support, apprenticeships are still too often hidden in plain sight. The latest Industry Apprentice Council report finds that just 22% of apprentices rate the careers advice they received at school or college as 'good' or 'very good', and just 21% were told about apprenticeships. I'm hoping the government's new Careers Strategy will lead to future students making more informed initial career decisions and further improvements to these statistics, because there must be so many more young people out there who could benefit from an apprenticeship.

In the end, the Chancellor didn’t have any major surprises in store on skills – but then, given the Industrial Strategy will be launching on Monday and has skills as one of its major strands, perhaps we shouldn’t have been expecting any.

That there were no major surprises doesn’t mean that this Budget doesn’t contain a number of welcome announcements from an engineering skills perspective, though. From the apprenticeship levy to T-Levels, from maths teaching to digital skills, there are a number of new announcements which don’t radically reset the government’s approach to skills but which will help to smooth out their implementation. Given that many of the concerns raised by employers in our sector have been about the ways in which policies are being implemented, rather than the general aims and ethos of those policies, this is all to the good.

Mark StewartGuest Blog by Mark Stewart, HR Director and Country Manager at Airbus UK

Take it from me – large engineering employers like Airbus want to do their bit to help the wider sector to meet its skills needs. Most of the engineering workforce is actually with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro-sized companies – so if we’re going to solve the skills challenges we have, we need to have solutions in place which work for those companies as well as those like Airbus. The apprenticeship levy offers a great opportunity to do just that.

The engineering sector as a whole can, and must, meet our skills needs, because our contribution to UK GDP is going to be needed in future by a globally trading Britain which faces stiff competition from overseas. Half of the workforce is set to reach retirement age by the middle of next decade, but we need those who remain to be fully competent in the processes and techniques that the engineering workplace of the future will demand they perform.

Andrew-ChurchillGuest Blog by Andrew Churchill, Managing Director at JJ Churchill Ltd

Our business, JJ Churchill, would not be the success it is without our apprentices. The majority of our 129 employees were apprentices and we recruit apprentices most years.

What I find hard to understand is why other small and medium-sized businesses don't do the same. Could the levy be the game changer in this?

Here I argue why apprenticeships are one of the best investments an engineering business will ever make – and why we should all be using this fantastic recruitment and training route. And if you are a levy payer, why you would be mad not to.

phototwoGuest Blog by Heidi Catlin, IAC Member and Policy Advisor Infrastructure Skills at the Department for Transport 

We're all aware of the skills gap in the engineering industry, and know that women play a key role in solving it.

But here's the thing: We cannot tackle the gender gap in engineering if we don't build a more inclusive and diverse apprenticeship system. While the proportion of engineering degrees taken up by women is low at 16%, it's still comfortably higher than the 3% of engineering apprenticeships which are started by women.

The new Industry Apprentice Council report breaks down the findings from our survey of 1,200 apprentices by gender, and in doing so exposes some worrying divisions. For example, 30% of female respondents to the survey said they were discouraged from taking up an apprenticeship place, compared with just 17% of males who responded.

I experienced this lack of careers advice when I left sixth form just over two years ago. I was discouraged from an apprenticeship by my school and told that it was for "low skilled people". However, I was a strong-willed teenager, so I applied for it anyway.

So once again it’s A-Level results day, when hundreds of thousands of young people across the UK wake up with a mixture of nervousness and excitement (often the former rather more than the latter!) to find out what grades they have achieved – and to take the next step on their career path, whether that means an apprenticeship, further education or university. (All great choices and all of them great starting points for an engineering career!)  

The media has, of course, obsessed and pored over these results all day and will I’m sure continue to do so. The reforms in England, with AS Levels no longer counting towards the value of a full A Level and with the focus shifted towards exams at the end of the second year of study, means that we can expect nuances and differences compared with previous years to be analysed and used to challenge the government. And while I am using this blog piece to do something similar with the Physics and Engineering results, I believe it’s really important to first say a couple of things about today.

Guest Blog by Dame Judith Hackitt - Semta Chair


Although my own children left school more than 10 years ago, at this time of year I always think back to that stressful time for them, and for us as parents, when we were waiting with bated breath for their GCSE/ A level results. Everything seemed to hinge on the outcome – getting the right grades in the right subjects to do the A-Levels they wanted to do, then getting A-Level grades that far exceeded what I was expected to achieve 30 years earlier to get into the university of their choice. Nowadays it is our friends’ and neighbours’ children who are anxiously awaiting those outcomes.

Many things have changed in the intervening period of time – tuition fees, student loans, more universities and colleges to choose from, more courses and a renaissance in apprenticeships, to name but a few. While the choice of courses is ever greater, some of the barriers and obstacles to university are undoubtedly greater – the introduction of university tuition fees and facing the prospect on graduation of a sizeable student loan to be paid off over a large period in one’s working life being the obvious examples.

Guest Blog by Dame Judith Hackitt - Semta Chair


For as long as I have been an engineer, there has been much debate and discussion about who engineers are and how we describe what we do. I recall that, back in the 1970 and 1980s, much centred around a sense of disparity between the way engineers are perceived here in the UK and the recognition and respect that they command elsewhere in the world simply by being called “engineer” – and, of course, between the corresponding levels of remuneration.

More recently, that lack of public understanding about who we are and what we do has been focussed on wrestling with the issue of a lack of supply of engineers to address the massive skills shortage in UK industry now – a gap which is projected to get worse in the future unless we change that perception.

We are all concerned about the problem and we all want to do something to try to fix it. Therein lies part of the problem – as I’ve said in previous blog pieces, there are simply too many initiatives, far too many. Despite starting out with the very best of intentions, what we in the sector have created does not provide a clear way for those on the receiving end to discern which bits to take up and how to find out more about this thing called “engineering”.

Despite all of the political upheaval this year, with the general election and the Brexit negotiations to contend with, apprenticeships remain a key policy priority of the government and the ambition to create 3 million of them by 2020 remains in place.

I’ve outlined the concerns that engineering employers have previously, but in building a new apprenticeships system it’s even more important that we listen to apprentices themselves. If we don’t make the apprentice experience a good one and we don’t give apprenticeships the status and prestige they deserve, we won’t get enough young people to pursue them.

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