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. 


Thursday, 18 August 2016 00:00

University or Degree Apprenticeships – Which route is best for you…. and your bank balance?

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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.

Degree apprenticeships offer a way to bridge that gap. Engineering employers have been enthusiastic in putting together their own degree apprenticeship packages – last year, 17% of degree apprenticeship starts were with engineering employers. With the apprenticeship levy set to be introduced from April next year, and with engineering employers understandably not keen to overtrain to claw back what they put into that pot, degree apprenticeships could offer employers a great way to train up the highly-skilled workers they need.

Offering degree apprenticeships in engineering disciplines, however, can only work if there is sufficient supply of talented young people with the required STEM skills. It's heartening that vocational qualifications are now being accepted by more and more universities – our own qualifications arm, EAL, has recently had a number of its Level 3 courses UCAS approved – but it's worrying that STEM A Level entries have again slid this year, with even Mathematics, the most popular A Level choice of all, seeing a slight fall in numbers.

Even more concerning is the gender divide across STEM courses – Physics has the second lowest proportion of female entrants at just over one in five of the total. We will never manage to beat the engineering skills shortage if we don't boost the numbers of women coming into the sector, and I will continue to push for more impartial and tailored careers advice in schools, stronger outreach programmes in industry, and better education of parents regarding what an engineering career actually entails. Role models are hugely important and at Semta we're doing our bit – many of our Semta Skills Awards winners last year were female, as are a number of members of our apprentice-led Industry Apprentice Council.

A final thought. A Level results day has become a key date in the calendar – it's reported on by all of the major newspapers and TV news channels and Ministers fall over themselves to congratulate those who have worked hard to achieve the results they wanted. That's great – hard work deserves to be recognised and celebrated – but A Levels aren't the only route to a degree and to a rewarding career and, as I mentioned earlier, vocational and technical alternatives are becoming more and more recognised and prestigious. Those who achieve good results on other, vocational routes deserve to have their moment in the sun too – so why not give Vocational Qualifications Day the same promotion and the same weight as A Level results day?

In the meantime, if you, a friend or a family member have got your A Level results today and you're thinking about getting into engineering but are not sure what to do next, talk to us – you can tweet us at @SemtaSkills and we have an active Facebook page too. We've also put together a career route map which outlines the paths that an individual can take towards a rewarding and exciting career in our sector. If you've got the enthusiasm for making and fixing things, then engineering is the sector for you.

Read 2279 times Last modified on Thursday, 18 August 2016 15:31