"There are some practical things that every individual company could do now to move beyond good intentions."

Stew Edmondson

The Skills Challenge – What We Can Do?

Engineering UK recently published the 2016 State of Engineering report, which once again highlighted that while engineering and skilled engineers make a significant contribution to the UK economy and its productivity, as well as working towards mitigating the global challenges, the UK, at all levels of education, does not have the current capacity or rate of growth required to meet the forecasted demand for skilled engineers and technicians by 2022. We know that this is especially true in the Electronics sector.

A key priority the report identifies is that “through concerted and co-ordinated action, the engineering community, and employers in particular, can make a demonstrable difference by working with schools and colleges to inspire future generations to pursue relevant qualifications and go on to careers in engineering”. However, turning these priorities into action is often problematic.

Take practical steps at a local level

People certainly ‘get’ the skills issue, recognise its importance and want solutions. The problem is that these solutions are almost generational in their nature and require systemic and cultural changes; these all take considerable effort and changes of this nature don’t happen overnight. This obviously leads to frustration. However, there are some practical things that every individual company could do now to move beyond good intentions and start take steps, at a local level, to help tackle the skills challenge facing the Electronics sector.
First of all, if a company already has a relationship with a local school, then talking to the teacher leading on STEM and getting involved by visiting them is a great start. There can be some barriers to overcome first; for example, volunteers may lack the confidence to go into schools to deliver talks or help deliver STEM projects. An initiative promoted by SEMTA has been launched to help overcome this – Future You – which provides volunteers free training on how to become a mentor.

No need to ‘go it alone’

Alternatively, rather than ‘going it alone’, companies can join in with schemes organised by established STEM education providers. One such scheme, designed to give students in years 7 and 8 an introduction to STEM, is called Go4SET. The UKESF has developed a specific Electronics-based Go4SET project in conjunction with the Engineering Development Trust. This is already being delivered at number of schools across the country, with the support of around 30 Electronics companies. The commitment from a company is to provide a mentor (who receives training from the EDT) and a small contribution to cover the costs of the delivering the project. The organisation is taken care of by the UKESF, the EDT and the school. This is great, low-commitment way to get involved and make a difference.

Teachers, especially Science and D&T teachers, are vitally important in influencing children’s interest in STEM. However, the reality is that too few of these teachers know enough about Electronics to effectively stimulate interest and enthusiasm in the sector. There is an effective way to address this shortcoming in the form of the Teacher Industrial Partnership Scheme (TIPS). The scheme needs more Electronics companies to get involved – there is no financial cost, just a commitment to host a teacher from a local school for a short placement, helping them to learn a little more about Electronics and careers opportunities in the sector. The organisers work with companies to create a placement advert and agenda, and connect employers with interested teachers from the local area. It’s a great way to help teachers promote Electronics to their students and for companies to build a relationship with a local school. Employers can register their interest via contact [email protected].

Work collaboratively with the UKESF

Finally, companies can also make a difference by working collaboratively with the UKESF, either by participating in our scholarship scheme or by making a donation to support one of our STEM events. As well as making a valuable contribution to their company, scholars are great ambassadors for promoting Electronics in schools and we provide them with the resources and wherewithal to go into schools and deliver talks and practical sessions about Electronics. In terms of STEM events, then with donations from companies we are able to provide a whole range of different events, for example a fully facilitated and professionally delivered Electronics-themed day session for up to 36 pupils. For more details, please contact us at [email protected].

Therefore, if you care about skills, there are a range of very practical and locally based things that you can do to move beyond talk about the shortage. Together, we can start to make a difference.

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