Sam SheadReporter

Earlier this week The Engineer’s Jon Excell rightly queried the quantity and quality of apprenticeship schemes, arguing that some schemes appear to exist in order to fudge unemployment figures.

Jon’s editorial, neatly coinciding with National Apprenticeship Week, elicited a great deal of comment, a lot of which focussed on the positive aspects of a well thought out and well executed engineering apprenticeship.

Backing this up is Rolls-Royce chief executive John Rishton, who has been widely quoted in today’s newspapers asking for engineers to be given the recognition and respect they deserve for job they do and the value it brings to the economy.

Rishton has every right to make this call, given that his company has just posted a 21 per cent rise in underlying profit before tax of £1.16bn.

Much of this success is predicated on a recruitment policy that next year will see a doubling of its apprentice intake.

Further encouragement for the engineering sector and young people wanting to swell its ranks came this week with the announcement that the National Apprenticeship Service is to work with the Baker Dearing Educational Trust (BDT) to deliver apprenticeships in University Technical Colleges.

Aston University Engineering Academy, a state funded school for 14-19 year olds, will be the first University Technical College (UTC) to deliver apprenticeships – and will act as a pilot for further apprenticeship development across all UTCs.

Speaking at the launch event earlier this week David Way, chief operating officer of National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), defined an apprenticeship as something that comes as part of employment.

’It’s employment and training. It’s not a training course. It’s employment and skills development in the workplace,’ he said.

UTCs themselves offer 14-19 year olds the opportunity to take a technically, orientated course of study at a specialist college with facilities that go beyond those a comprehensive school can offer.

The colleges are sponsored by a university, offering clear progression routes into higher education or the world of work. The sponsoring university work with the local authority and local employers to decide the specialism of the UTC, which reflects the university’s areas of excellence and local employment priorities.

Aston University Engineering Academy is working with E.ON. and EU Skills to design and develop a model apprenticeship pathway and Prof Alison Halstead, Pro Vice Chancellor of Aston University predicts that 60/180 students will go on to do apprenticeships next year.

Whilst some non-technical ‘apprenticeships’ leave themselves wide open to criticism, the emergence of the UTC apprenticeship must surely be welcomed, along with the news that many other engineering companies - far too numerous to mention here -are upping their apprentice intake.

Rolls Royce’s Rishton believes government should do more to encourage people into the industry. On this week’s evidence it seems that industry is doing a fine enough job itself.