The young ones

Paul Jackson

The Paul Jackson column

With two months to go until the general election, we are hearing many politicians talking about engineering, including discussion around industrial training levies and the announcement of funding from the Employer Ownership of Skills Fund.

In Scotland, we’ve heard that STEM subjects are at the heart of the government’s approach to developing the country’s young workforce. And at the EEF conference, Ed Miliband said he believed that manufacturing and engineering are “the wave of the future, not simply the pride of the past”.

It’s fantastic that engineering, as well as parts of education that are important to its future such as apprenticeships and careers education, is so high on the political agenda. We need to keep that momentum going  and make sure that politicians continue to champion engineering, not just over the next couple of months but for the rest of the year and beyond.

The Whitehall government has established a new careers and enterprise company for schools, whose stated aim is to transform the provision of careers education and advice for young people and inspire them about the opportunities offered by the world of work. The company will be led by CapGemini’s Christine Hodgson and have as its vice-chair National Grid chief executive officer Steve Holliday. It is great to see that Holliday is involved as he is a champion for addressing the challenges our industry faces in terms of appealing to and attracting the best young talent.

Part of addressing that challenge is emphasising that the world of engineering is a great place to work and getting that message out to young people  in their early years  at secondary school.

This is when they are likely to form long-lasting opinions about the subjects that they enjoy and the careers that they are interested in pursuing. Employers have a massive role to play in this.

Late last month, I was joined by more than 20 representatives from a range of engineering employers  at a House of Commons lunch where we had the opportunity to discuss careers education with skills, enterprise and equalities minister, Nick Boles. The consensus in that room was that employers have an essential role to play developing and delivering the careers information and inspiration needed in schools. Employers are absolutely prepared to play their part, but (and it’s a big but) government cannot abandon all responsibility.

While that discussion involved many large companies, the role of employers is by no means restricted to global companies. Smaller engineering companies and those in their supply chains can and do play an important role in developing skills within the industry. Just a cursory glance at the list of six engineering projects sharing the £2.8m of match funding from the Ownership of Skills Fund confirms this. Big hitters such as Nissan feature but so too  do smaller companies such as Cheshire-based Tiger Trailers. This is exactly what we need – engineering companies of all sizes doing what they can to address  the skills shortages within the industry.

Paul Jackson is chief executive of EngineeringUK

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