Imagine a school which is run by companies, where students solve real business problems, and where the school day is like a work day in the real world. In September 2014 this will become a reality as the WMG Academy for Young Engineers opens its doors for the first time. Newly appointed Principal Kate Tague talks education, engineering and why a progressive education system cannot happen without employers.
Things are on the up for engineers in the UK – you only have to look at the West Midlands region to see the impact investment by big manufacturing names like Prodrive and Jaguar Land Rover is having. We’re seeing a true renaissance for local engineers and wages are becoming much more competitive with the increased demand for these highly-skilled workers.
But there’s a skills gap already upon us and before it gets any worse we need to work hard to attract more people into these skill sets. The onus is definitely now on education and industry to promote the career opportunities available; to show young people what an exciting and vital field engineering is and the breadth of opportunities that are available at all levels.
In September 2014 we open our doors to our first cohort of young engineers, and my job is very much focused on getting this message out. I think maybe in the past industry hasn’t been great at promoting what it does, so we’re looking to reverse that trend and educate young people (and their parents) about the potential of a career in engineering.
The WMG Academy will offer students a chance to gain technical qualifications alongside the core curriculum you’d study at any school. This in itself is only half the story though. In order to really give the students the head-start they need in their careers, we will be integrating this with ‘real-life’ business skills. The WMG Academy will be business-like and business led – ensuring our students are fully prepared for their future careers – and that’s where employers come in!
The support and involvement of engineering firms is absolutely fundamental to our mission; we believe it is impossible to embed business in education without industry being involved. Developing our curriculum has been our obsession over the past few years – finding a way to translate business practice into ‘lessons’; working out ways to apply the curriculum to project-based learning rather than traditional lessons, ensuring ‘soft’ business skills are learnt alongside technical and mainstream qualifications.
Our employer partners have been at the centre of this drive to create a brand new approach to learning. They are leading our education steering group and, quite literally, rolling up their sleeves and committing to developing a new approach to education that will produce well-educated young people who are not only ready to integrate into the workplace but are well-experienced in working with industry.
Over the next 12 months I will be working with our employer partners (which include companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, National Grid, SCC, Automotive Insulations and Squires Gears) to shape everything that goes on at the Academy, from marketing the school to developing mentoring programmes, from the layout of the building to the technical qualifications. We will be recruiting 320 14-16 year olds in the first year and 640 in the second year. They will be a vital resource for the future of the engineering and manufacturing industry not only in the region but across the country too.
Click here for more information on the WMG Academy.
Richard Earp, Process Manager at National Grid, explains why University Technical Colleges are an exciting opportunity for both education and industry.
The thoughts of Steve Holliday, National Grid’s Chief Executive, on the UK skills gap.