Tim Strafford, CEO of Envisage Group – the UK’s leading engineering concept design and realisation company – talks to The Engineer about skills, apprentices, and the role schools can play in promoting STEM careers.
How do you close the skills gaps of your STEM recruits?
Envisage aims to recruit candidates with a specific skillset directly related to the position. As with most technical positions, it is difficult to acquire a candidate who is a 100 per cent perfect match. Envisage see this slight gap as an opportunity for progression and the opportunity for the individual to learn new skills on the job whilst progressing their knowledge.
What percentage of your workforce are apprentices?
During 2020, Envisage has had 15 apprentices, which make up approximately eight per cent of our permanent workforce. Envisage started our apprentice scheme in 2011 to train and educate the next generation of employees, ensuring vital skills that are crucial to our business and the industry as a whole are cascaded through generations.
With Envisage having such a diverse set of capabilities, there are plenty of options and pathways for our apprentices to take. This enables us to ensure there is a diversity in skill sets which has proven both successful and beneficial to the group. To this day we have retained a large number of our apprentices who now work as full-time employees in roles including Project Management, CNC Machine Operators and Traditional Metal Crafters.
What options are available to your apprentices?
Envisage ensures that each cohort of apprentices have the option to broaden their skillset and specialise in certain areas of the business. In order for the apprentices to receive the best possible training, their course is a mixture between academic college work through our partner, North Warwickshire & South Leicestershire College, and on the job experience and training in our workshops. Using the combined method of training and education has proven to be very successful in creating the next generation of skilled workers.
In what ways can schools be doing more to teach subjects that are becoming more sought after?
There are various methods that can ensure schools are teaching highly sought-after subjects. Firstly, schools and education boards can continue to refresh and update the curriculum to align with the shift in demand towards a more digital skillset, just as businesses such as Envisage have to realign our training programmes to keep up with the ever changing market. Certain subjects are compulsory for students until they choose their GCSE options and if these additional subjects are implemented to be taught until that age, then pupils will leave school with a basic understanding of these sought-after skills. To help students progress further, perhaps new, niche GCSE courses could be offered in fields such as digital programming. This would allow students to steer towards their chosen career path from a younger age instead of waiting until college or university to begin specialising in these areas of academia.
A second option could be improving the access to work experience. Currently pupils will spend approximately 1 week out of their entire school life on work experience and often, it does not give students a true representation of what work is like post education. If companies offered their support to schools and the community through extended periods of work experience, then the benefits for both would be clear to see. Students would gain a real understanding and opportunity to experience what it is like working in their chosen industry and begin to broaden their understanding in that field. Businesses would also get the opportunity to work with and train the next generation of workers within their sector.
Do new UK visa regulations present any difficulties in terms of hiring from abroad?
Envisage always try and source the best candidate for the position in question, whether they are UK citizens or not. Working within the government guidelines, this change in Visa regulations should not be a hindrance to Envisage as those who possess the right skillset would still be eligible to enter the UK under the new ‘Skill based’ criteria. The only potential hinderance could be time scales, for example, if a client requires a vacancy to be filled quickly then issues may arise in the form of delays and prolonged application periods, which is out of Envisage’s control but would be considered worthwhile to ensure the best candidate is appointed.
Tim Strafford, CEO, Envisage Group