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. 


Last week’s A Level results showed female entrants outperforming their male counterparts, with 71.% of females achieving a C grade or above compared with 69.6% of males. There’s absolutely no good reason why someone’s characteristics – gender, sexuality, ethnicity, social background, you name it – should determine whether or not they can achieve great things in STEM.

Today’s GCSE results, however, tell a rather different story to those A Level results. Across the UK (excepting Scotland, of course), males have outperformed females in GCSE Physics – there’s been a sizeable overall improvement in male performance and a corresponding decline in female performance.

Great news – the number of people getting A Level Physics results is up on last year, bucking the recent trend of decline. And in even better news, Physics results have improved too, with a higher proportion of A* grades being awarded and the cumulative percentage being awarded a C or above breaking the 70% barrier – bucking the general trend.

University isn’t the only option for what comes next, of course – there are a number degree apprenticeships available now, and it was pleasing to see Institute for Apprenticeships chief Sir Gerry Berragan promoting them in his blog piece this morning (although he didn’t mention any in engineering!). A recent study found that although three quarters of 11-16 year olds think it’s important to go to university to do well, that’s down on the 86% who thought so in 2013.

Guest blog by Hannah Naqwi, Industry Apprentice Council member

When it comes to apprenticeships, I and my fellow Industry Apprentice Council members firmly believe that the people whose views matter most are ours – the apprentices.

That’s why every year, the IAC surveys apprentices from engineering and related sectors. We collect apprentices’ views on the hot topics of the day, from end-point assessment to the use of qualifications, and we publish our findings in our annual report, along with recommended actions to make apprenticeships an even better and more attractive career route for young people to take.

Our 2018 annual surveys are now live - we’ve got one for apprentices, which you can find here, and for the first time there’s also one for their parents, which you can find here. As an incentive to get involved, one lucky apprentice will win £250 in vouchers just for completing the survey!

Guest Blog by Helen Brindley, Degree Apprentice, Siemens plc

Helen is a member of the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC), facilitated by Semta, who act on behalf of apprentices in the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector and other related industries. To help us celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, Helen has written a guest blog for Skills Vision telling us about her experiences as a woman in engineering.

IMG 0344I enjoy telling people about my job, but often when people find out that I am an engineering apprentice I receive one of two reactions. "Why have you decided to do that?" Or," That's good, they are always looking for more women". Although the somewhat outdated opinion that only men can be engineers is a thing of the past, there is still a severe lack of female engineers in the workforce, resulting in a vast talent pool that is not yet being utilised!

There is a misconception of engineers that they get covered in grease and get their hands dirty. Although that can be a part of the role where some jobs do have this background, not all engineering positions involve this. Design engineers, for example are office based, where they have the opportunity to go out and visit installations, however the majority of their time is spend in the office carrying out important engineering tasks such as creating schematics and making revision changes.

This International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) is perhaps the most important in recent years. 2018 is, of course, the Year of Engineering, during which there will be (at least) a million interactions between young people and our sector. Given the continuing gender disparity in engineering, we need to make sure more than a fair share of these interactions are targeted at girls.

The gender disparity in engineering isn't something that springs up overnight. Girls are no less capable, when it comes to STEM subjects, than boys – indeed, girls actually outperform boys in GCSE Physics. And girls are not lacking, as a group, in the skills and attributes needed to have a successful career in engineering. The problem is not one of girls' making – it is a social one and is to do with how our society perceives different types of work.

We live in a heavily gendered society, where certain behaviours are denoted 'male' and others 'female', and this is embedded within the minds of girls (and boys) from a very young age – you only need to take a walk down a toy aisle in a department store, and compare the toys targeted at children of each gender, to see. However, when it comes to reshaping our sector, lots of those 'female' attributes – creativity, teamwork, helping others – are ones which employers are going to need a lot more of in the coming years, thanks to the way the Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing what an engineer does and how they do it.

We aren't going to shift our whole culture overnight and change the gendered nature of certain behaviours and skills. However, we can in the short to medium term demonstrate to girls that the 'female' attributes they have are ones which engineering really wants them to bring to our sector. That's where the STEM Exchange comes in – this matching service, relaunched by Semta for the Year of Engineering, is bringing educators and engineering employers together, helping those educating our young people to better understand the range of careers that are open to them.

Changing our wider society's culture is something which might take a little time, but we can start today, together, to change the culture of our engineering sector. Currently, around 3% of engineering apprentices are female – there's actually been a drop since 2002 – and around 9% of our sector's workforce is female. This is poor in comparison to many other countries, but it is something we can and must change if we are serious about making the very most of all of the potential engineering talent we have available to us.

A new report  by the Young Women's Trust (YWT), which Semta helped to produce, recommends a range of interventions which we can make to help to attract more girls and women into our apprenticeship programmes and into engineering roles. Changing where and how jobs and apprenticeships are advertised; changing recruitment practices, e.g. using name-blind CVs; rewriting job adverts so the wording better suits female applicants; making flexible working available to all employees and; using the 'tiebreak' provision to bring in female candidates.

These are just some of the recommendations made by the YWT, they are cost effective, and with the practical support already available in the WISE online apprenticeship toolkit, launched last year in partnership with Semta and the Institution of Civil Engineers, can be implemented immediately.

So my challenge this International Women in Engineering Day is threefold. Firstly – sign up to the STEM Exchange, if you've not done so already, and offer an opportunity to local educators so they can understand what a career in engineering has to offer the girls they teach. Secondly – read the Young Women's Trust report to think about how you could change your recruitment practices so that you are able to reach a wider talent pool. And finally – view the WISE apprenticeships toolkit in relation to the culture of your organisation, and think about the practical measures you can implement in the workplace to create a more diverse workforce.

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

Millie is a member of the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC), facilitated by Semta, who act on behalf of apprentices in the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector and other related industries.  To help us celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, Millie has written a guest blog for Skills Vision telling us about her experiences as a woman in engineering. 

Millie PicI am currently almost three years into my apprenticeship with Atkins in the rail telecoms design team. I began as an advanced apprentice and I have now moved onto a degree apprenticeship studying digital and technology solutions. During my time with Atkins I have worked on a number of high profile jobs such as Crossrail and HS2 which has enabled me to gain skills very quickly on the job and learn how to deal with an increase in design responsibility under the guidance of more senior engineers.

Alongside my work I have a voluntary role on the Women in STEM Plymouth committee as an events coordinator which means I have the responsibility of organising quarterly networking events with a standard attendance of 30+. These events have the goal to connect and inspire women working in Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths which is a wonderful thing to be able to facilitate. In my role at the moment I see the lack of gender diversity (and general diversity) in those working in the engineering sector and more specifically the rail sector. I come into contact with so many inspiring women in engineering through my day job and my volunteering and it is unfortunate that the industry doesn't always monopolise on the potential to increase this pool of talent.

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.

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