Schoolgirls looking at molecules

Inspiring the next generation of engineers

The engineering sector in the UK is struggling to attract the talent it needs to meet the country’s requirements. What is being done to address the growing skills gap?

“If we want to attract a new generation of engineers who can really deliver on the UK’s engineering and technology potential,” says former IET President Naomi Climer, “making engineering a career that is seen as cool, exciting and ‘the place to be’ is absolutely essential.”

Climer worked for a number of years at Sony in California. In her experience there, engineers were seen as responsible for some of the world’s most exciting innovations, from the internet to 3D printing – and given ‘rock star’ status as a result. She believes that the UK’s engineering image problem is one of the main reasons why low numbers of young people are going into engineering.

“We need to get better at making the British public – and particularly young people – more aware of what we do and how influential it is on all their lives,” she says.

In order to reward and celebrate excellence and support emerging talent in engineering, the IET’s awards and scholarships programme provides around £1,000,000 each year in awards, prizes and scholarships.

The Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards, now in their 40th year, continue to shine a light on the very best female talent in engineering. The winners of the awards become role models for the next generation of engineers, appearing in the media, visiting careers events and going into schools to talk to young people about engineering and highlighting how it is a creative, exciting and rewarding career for all.

Creating role models is just one part of a more complex solution to addressing the skills gap in UK engineering, however. To truly ensure that the country has access to the brightest and best engineering talent requires a collaborative approach from key stakeholders across the sector.

The 2016 IET Skills and Demand in Industry survey found that 62 per cent of engineering employers believe graduates don’t have the right skills for today’s workplace, while 68 per cent are concerned that the education system will struggle to keep up with the skills required for technological change.

In response to the latest skills survey findings, the IET has launched a new campaign, Engineering Work Experience for All, to champion the need for more employers and universities to collaborate in offering quality work experience to engineering students. The campaign is designed to rally employers, universities, government and students to make a range of different, high-quality work experience opportunities more widespread.

As part of this, the IET is calling on industry, government and academia to develop a government-led national work experience framework, and extend the Apprenticeship Levy to include internships and work placements in order to help students meet the costs of work experience placements.

“This would see a region or city’s major higher education provider building a work > < experience ‘supply chain’ with local businesses, as well as with local schools and further education providers,” says John Perkins, chair of the IET Education and Skills Panel.

“The framework could be supported by extending the existing apprenticeship levy, requiring employers to invest in internships and work placements. This would be particularly valuable for smaller companies who typically struggle with the time and cost implications of offering work experience opportunities.”

Momentum is building globally behind the argument that we need a new approach to engineering education altogether – with greater emphasis on the practical, creative and problem-solving side to engineering. Universities around the world are starting to introduce new degree programmes based on the premise that a background in creative subjects is an equally valid launch pad for an engineering career as the traditional mathematical one.

Many of these initiatives are based on integrated engineering programmes incorporating engineering with real design experience, and arts and humanities with communication and employability skills. What all have in common is a clear focus on real-world problem solving, with themes like sustainability and global health.

In the US and Canada, as well as in the UK, these new approaches are already showing signs of being better able to develop the skills industry seeks, as well as to attract a broader range of students.

Conscious of the opportunities presented by some of this change in thinking, and to explore lessons already learned from other countries’ higher education systems, the IET and Engineering Professors’ Council are hosting a high-profile global conference in May 2017 to discuss new approaches to engineering education, drawing on expertise, thought leadership and best practice from the UK and internationally.

Moreover, in a bid to inspire the next generation of engineers, the IET has launched the Engineer a Better World campaign which aims to encourage young people and their parents to nurture their curiosity and think differently about careers in engineering. The campaign includes Engineering Open House Day, an annual event that sees venues across the UK opening their doors to highlight the range of exciting engineering careers on offer.

There is no doubt that the IET is investing considerable resources into fixing the skills shortage in the UK engineering sector, but this isn’t an issue that can be solved in isolation. It requires a joint response with the government, industry, the engineering institutions and engineers themselves to fix this problem.

We all need to play our part and show the next generation just how exciting, creative and rewarding engineering is.

Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering, Coventry

Case study

The Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering’s ‘Faculty on the Factory Floor’ is about to create its first industry-ready graduates, a major breakthrough in skills development for UK manufacturing.

Maria Maynard-Bilgouras is just a few months away from becoming one of the first students to complete the UK’s first ever ‘Faculty on The Factory Floor’ degree.

When she graduates, the 20-year-old engineer will be industry-ready and in demand. Three years applying theory to live Unipart manufacturing projects at AME in Coventry has accelerated her career progression by more than 18 months when compared to conventional BEng or MEng students. And that’s before you take into consideration a recent three-month international placement in the United States.

“Working at Subaru in Indiana was something else and gave me access to different manufacturing cultures and an insight into working on new technology processes,” explains Maria.

“There are not many people my age who can add that level of experience to their CV and all before graduating. It can only help when I’m looking to secure my first job in industry in May.

“You can have all the classroom learning in the world, but there is no substitute for being able to immediately apply it to shop-floor activities. This has involved working with production supervisors, engineers and fellow students as part of a team responsible for meeting stringent volume and just-in-time delivery schedules for the automotive sector.”

Maria is one of the students graduating as part of AME’s first cohort. It is a massive moment for these young engineers and an equally important milestone for the UK as it attempts to bridge the widely-acknowledged skills gap.

This innovative approach to education was the result of a close working relationship between Coventry University and Unipart Manufacturing and was roughly two years in the making.

It owed a lot to the vision of the university’s vice chancellor John Latham and Unipart managing director Carol Burke, who were committed in their joint desire to change the way engineers were developed so that they graduated ready to make an immediate impact in industry.

The partnership involved considerable investment from both sides. Unipart contributed £17.9m and a further £5.6m towards student scholarships and product research and development. This was further supported by £7.9m from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund.

AME has come a long way in the two years since the vision became a reality. The 1700m2 manufacturing hub is now full of £3m of robotics, automation, tube bending and metrology equipment and is home to more than 90 students working towards their BEng, MEng (Hons) and MSc degrees.

The ‘Faculty on the Factory Floor’ is already winning praise for its innovative solution and activity-led modules that ensure engineering and manufacturing theory is immediately applied on Unipart business operations. To date, new TPM (trusted platform module) systems have been introduced and an improvement to the fuel filler manufacturing process was implemented as a direct result of student and engineer interaction.

Carl Perrin, director of AME, is delighted with progress to date: “This is no run-of-the-​mill degree. The content and delivery, which has been shaped by course director Ian Wilson and Chris Smith, is completely different from anything else currently out there and this has been supported by the careful creation of our manufacturing hub by a team led by Andy Hind.

“Together we are future-proofing our students and this is being taken to the next level by allowing them to work on some of the exciting research and development projects being carried out by our professors.

“This has involved developing the latest powertrain and prototyping solutions that will equip them with skills and knowledge two or three years away from actually being seen in mainstream production.

“The last two intakes have been full so there is clearly a demand for this innovative approach and we are now looking at ways where we can open up our doors to help provide training and development solutions for UK SMEs. It has to be an inclusive approach for it to truly work.”

The Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering on its own isn’t going to deliver the answer to manufacturing’s skill shortage, but what it has done so far is prove that an alternative to the mainstream approach of developing graduates can work.

“We need to build on this success, scale up and find a way where we can have a network of AMEs to deliver thousands of industry-​ready graduates so desperately needed to grow the UK’s manufacturing sector,” says Perrin. “To achieve this, more businesses need to step up to the challenge and be part of the solution rather than bemoaning the current situation. Just like Unipart has done.”

National College for Advanced Manufacturing

Case study

By 2020, UK industry will require an additional 880,000+ skilled people to work in STEM-related roles. An acute awareness of this challenge, and the fact that shortage of higher skills is quoted by employers as a major barrier to competitiveness, brought together The Welding Institute (TWI), the EEF and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult to develop the concept of the National College for Advanced Manufacturing.

NCAM proposes an efficient response to meeting the future skills needs of advanced manufacturing employers by improving the UK’s ability to educate, train and retain sufficient numbers of skilled workers.

“We simply do not have enough people with the right advanced manufacturing skills, we don’t have sufficient capacity to generate the number of technicians and engineers industry needs, and the capacity we do have is not sufficiently focused on the latest and emerging technologies. In addition, most people who will operate these new technologies are already in work, yet there is little support for reskilling and upskilling them,” says Paul Shakspeare, NCAM programme manager.

“The UK has an excellent research base and now also has a world-class model for translating that research into commercial technology applications, but we will only exploit those if we have the right level of skills in the workforce.

“NCAM can be instrumental in addressing this, by generating highly skilled workers, trained for the present and ready for the future. By developing course material that is employer-led and a governance which is industry-led, we make sure we develop the skills industry wants now and needs in the future. Our model enables us to achieve some really big advantages.”

Being industry-led means that NCAM can leverage the UK’s investment in advanced manufacturing technologies and deploy the latest research to support education and training at higher learning levels.

The college is working towards setting up a network of national Learning Factories, the first four of which will be located at existing innovation centres where learning can take place alongside technology and industry specialists. In addition NCAM will develop, support and quality-assure national courses.

The government’s apprenticeship levy should deliver a step-change to employers’ training demand, especially at higher levels, but this is where delivery capability and capacity is least available. The productivity gap can only be closed if people already in work are equipped with the right high-level technology and management skills. As the UK seeks to redefine its relationship with the EU, industry needs the best skilled workforce to compete in the demanding high-tech global markets of the future.

Siemens Digital Factory, Congleton, Cheshire

Case study

At the Siemens Digital Factory in Congleton, which produces 400,000 industrial drives a year, the company has taken an innovative approach to tackling the skills shortage in the next generation of manufacturing and engineering leaders.

The Junior Factory, a factory within a factory, is responsible for assembling and delivering critical sub-assemblies to the production cells in the main plant. The day-​to-day running of the Junior Factory is the responsibility of the graduates and apprentices taken on by Siemens Congleton.

Through the Junior Factory the students are exposed to all the challenges faced in any manufacturing facility. They learn the importance of creating a zero-​defect culture and being able to demonstrate flexibility in reacting to changing customer demands, as well as how to maintain high deliveries while managing low inventory levels.

“The Junior Factory contributes to the skills pipeline for UK manufacturing by providing our people with ‘work-ready’ skills for a very challenging environment,” says Liam Blackshaw, former managing director at the Junior Factory. “What makes this unique (in the UK) is that we are not working in a virtual environment, but a real live one where the products we manufacture are contributed for use in everyday life. Failure to meet this demand can result in the majority of our factory having to stop production and lose money. The skills gained from these different scenarios are not necessarily picked up when doing a work placement in an apprenticeship or graduate programme”.

As well as learning how to maintain production, the Junior Factory teaches a wide range of other skills. For example, it is targeted with productivity improvements each year, as this teaches lean techniques and implementation.

As momentum behind the movement towards Industry 4.0 increases, so does the need for people who can implement technologies to improve productivity. It is crucial therefore that as well as teaching current manufacturing skills, there is a focus on preparing for the industry of the future.

The latest project for the Junior Factory tries to do this by asking workers to supply the main factory with an automated error-​proofing system. The requirements to deliver this necessitate the use of virtual commissioning with a digital twin in the on-site immersive virtual reality wall, creating parts and prototypes using 3D printers.

Increased productivity is critical to create growth in the manufacturing sector, and continually delivering productivity improvements is fundamental to keeping manufacturing at Siemens Congleton. Consideration is given to every project and initiative and how it will impact productivity and the Junior Factory is no different.

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