As an educational charity, the UK Electronics Skills Foundation (UKESF) collaborates with major companies, leading universities and other third-sector organisations, to tackle the national skills shortage in the electronics sector. For 10 years, AWE has worked with the UKESF, supporting the foundation’s mission to encourage more young people to study electronics and to pursue careers in the sector.
NATIONAL SKILLS SHORTAGE
Technology is fundamental to the security and defence of the UK. Electronics plays a key role in technology, underpinning advances that enable the UK to be competitive.
AWE plays a crucial role in the defence of the UK, by providing and maintaining the warheads for the country’s nuclear deterrent. The organisation is a centre of scientific, engineering and technological excellence, with some of the most advanced research, design and production facilities in the world. Its unique expertise also assists the UK Government in developing and delivering a range of innovative and integrated support services, including national nuclear security and counter-terrorism solutions.
AWE’s skills and capabilities position it as a leader in its fields of expertise. These capabilities serve as a base for significant contributions to national nuclear security, threat reduction and counterterrorism in support of the UK Government.
At AWE, Electronics is inextricably linked with other disciplines – science, engineering and maths – to ensure the organisation can support the UK Government’s nuclear defence strategy effectively.
However, despite the importance of Electronics in Defence and other areas, including healthcare, communication, transport and energy, the UK’s participation in and leadership of technological advances is being limited by a chronic skills shortage.
Over many years, too few students have been studying electrical and electronic engineering and this means that there are insufficient graduate engineers to drive forward innovation, to develop the next generation of products and help to produce the creative technological solutions needed by society.
UCAS figures show that just 3,245 students enrolled on degrees in electronic and electrical engineering in the UK 2021, and as few as 335 were women.
It is impossible to calculate the cost of the skills shortage to the UK economy, but it has significant implications for local and wider industry.
The UKESF has worked tirelessly with schoolchildren, students, teachers and parents to raise awareness of the rewarding career opportunities available in the electronics industry.
With the support of corporate sponsors, such as AWE, the UKESF has created a range of educational electronics-focused activities for students from school age through to university, inspiring young people with hands-on experience and connecting them with major employers in the sector.
AWE AND THE UKESF SCHOLARSHIP SCHEME
At the heart of the UKESF is its undergraduate Scholarship Scheme. It provides students with the opportunity to experience electronics and engineering in practice, through meaningful work placements, and to undertake professional development in order to succeed in industry as a graduate. The scheme is widely recognised as an exemplar of engagement between higher education and industry, winning a Princess Royal Training Award in 2022. AWE has supported 26 aspiring electronics engineers through the scheme.
“During my studies, the UKESF’s support was invaluable. I greatly appreciated the annual bursary which comes with the scholarship, as this allowed me to focus more on my degree instead of the cost of living at university. I completed a Year in Industry and summer placement through my scholarship, which provided valuable experience which I have carried forward with me into my career. Additionally, I found that the Scholars Workshop was an excellent opportunity to network, develop soft skills, and understand professional development.” Current AWE Scholar – Joshua Speakman (University of Nottingham)
“The UKESF Scholarship Scheme is an important means of providing students with the training and experience that they will need when they join industry. For an employer, this means that a new recruit will ‘hit the ground running’ and be a valuable member of staff from day one. I wish that there were more schemes of this nature to provide on-the-job skills and experience to the UK’s students.” AWE Deputy Chief Scientist – Professor Norman Godfrey
MEET THE AWE SCHOLARS
In the last 10 years, there has been a total of 26, current and graduated, AWE scholars who have participated in the UKESF Scholarship Scheme.
“At AWE we welcome early careers employees and bring them in from a number of routes including apprenticeships, graduates and undergraduates. They are a key part of the workforce and the future of the organisation. The UKESF is another important pipeline into the industry and helps us to build vital skills, provide the scholars with great work experience, particularly in an area where there is a skills shortage. We are delighted to support this scheme and look forward to helping more of the future workforce.” AWE Senior Manager (People Capability) – Sharon Steed
CURRENT AWE SCHOLAR – Joshua Speakman (University of Nottingham)
I chose electronics at university partly because of my passion for maths throughout school and partly because of the interactions I had with academics at university open days. These interactions, one of which was after getting to try a VR headset, intrigued me into the workings of different devices and what the future could hold. The prospect of working on cutting-edge technology and being able to develop the backbone of products made it an easy decision!
Your experience as a UKESF AWE Scholar
As a UKESF scholar I was given a buddy that had been through the same experience as me and was able to help me through the onboarding process. This inspired me to want to help out and therefore I became a buddy for a student the following year.
Working at AWE
At AWE, I have worked within the engineering function, primarily with temperature sensors and also charge measurement techniques. This has helped me to work with a range of different teams and get a wide overview of the company and how I fit into the overall mission. I was welcomed by everyone when I first joined the company and settled in quickly.
GRADUATED SCHOLAR – Hamzah Iqbal (Aston University – graduated 2022)
I have always had a keen interest in technology and pursuing a career in electronics helped further that passion into a more productive endeavour. The ability to design, create and innovate drives me in my day-to-day work. It provides a sense of fulfilment and purpose that is seldom found.
Your experience as a UKESF AWE Scholar
UKESF consistently supported me throughout my time at university and has been brilliant at staying in touch after I have graduated. I have found the opportunities offered to be useful and interesting and the UKESF was key in supporting me to where I am in my career today.
Working at AWE
At AWE I was able to work with a variety of technologies on projects that directly benefited an end user. The work was both technical in nature and had a wide variety which helped keep things interesting. I enjoyed the variety of work I was presented with at AWE, and I also enjoyed the work life balance and the culture.
GRADUATED SCHOLAR – Alex Pirie (University of Surrey – graduated 2021)
I have always been fascinated with the way things worked and was attracted to engineering and technology from a young age. After trying A-Level electronics at college I was certain that it was a career path I wanted to pursue. The thing I find most enjoyable about electronics is the relationship between theory and practice. I find it very rewarding to be able to develop an understanding through learning, and then to see the results by experimenting and applying my knowledge.
Your experience as a UKESF AWE Scholar
During my studies, the UKESF’s support was invaluable. I greatly appreciated the annual bursary which comes with the scholarship, as this allowed me to focus more on my degree instead of the cost of living at university. I completed a Year in Industry and summer placement through my scholarship, which provided valuable experience which I have carried forward with me into my career. Additionally, I found that the Scholars Workshop was an excellent opportunity to network, develop soft skills, and understand professional development. This was something I am very glad to have been able to attend.
Working at AWE
During my placements at AWE, I worked independently and collaboratively on several multidisciplinary projects and gained hands-on experience beyond what I had learned at university. I designed and assembled PCBs, conducted conceptual design and development activities and tested electronic systems in a laboratory environment. I also developed transferable business skills such as report writing. The thing I most enjoyed was being integrated with a large community of graduate engineers, and I had many useful interactions which helped me to plan the early stages of my career.
IMPACT OF UKESF AND INDUSTRY COLLABORATION
The UKESF strives to encourage more young people to study electronics and connects the most talented students from leading universities with employers. The charity’s activities, schemes and programmes are made possible by the support of organisations in the electronics industry.
- The UKESF undertakes outreach and engagement activities with schoolchildren. In the 2021/2022 academic year, UKESF worked with over 600 schools to raise awareness of, and spark interest in, Electronics.
- In 2022 nearly 250 students attended the Girls into Electronics programme, a one-day events hosted by 10 universities aimed at addressing the gender imbalance in engineering.
- Through our Insight into Electronics and Electronics Everywhere programme, classroom resources have been provided and teachers trained at 600 secondary schools. Insight into Electronics equipment has been sent out to hundreds of students at Key Stage 5 to support them to further develop their knowledge and interest.
- The UKESF Scholarship Scheme and Renesas Award creates opportunities for students at 27 leading universities.
- The UKESF Scholarship Scheme has supported over 750 students. Of those who have completed their studies, 91% work in the Electronics and Technology sectors (compared with 62% in engineering overall – Engineering UK 2018).
SO WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THE UKESF?
The educational charity is keen to get even more students, at schools and colleges across the UK, to participate in their activities and programmes.
The UKESF will continue to encourage the Government to recognise the importance of promoting Electronics to secondary schools and developing the skills of graduates to ensure future technological leadership.
There will be an expansion of the UKESF Scholarship Scheme, additional companies will be invited to come on board and there will be an increase in the numbers of scholarships offered, to connect even more students with leading employers. The collaboration between the UKESF and organisations, such as AWE, helps to tackle the skills shortage in the Electronics industry and secure the UK’s future as a world leader in this sector.