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. 


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Thursday, 28 March 2019 00:00

WorldSkills UK Registrations

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From photography to finance, from football to pharmaceuticals - there seems to be world youth challenges, conferences and competitions for everything at the moment. These opportunities for rising talent to showcase skills and ideas on a national and international stage have paved the way for many aspiring young people over the years. WorldSkills UK is no different - an initiative structured around 3 core programmes to champion young people's success in partnership with business, education and governments.

WorldSkills UK's competition cycle starts with National Qualifiers in your chosen skill, these are held all over the UK between May – July. If you are successful in gaining a top 8 position from across the UK in your skill you will then be invited to compete at WorldSkills UK LIVE. WorldSkills UK LIVE is an annual competition that stands as the nation's largest skills, apprenticeships and careers event.

Attracting more than 75,000 visitors, the competition is the pinnacle for skill recognition and proudly supports the place of apprenticeships and technical training in the UK. WorldSkills UK, Chief Executive, Neil Bentley says it best: "Our mission is to change the national conversation so that apprenticeships and technical education are seen as prestigious career routes for all young people across the UK, whatever their background, and on a par with university as a route into meaningful careers".

But what exactly does this have to do with engineering?

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!

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 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.

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.

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