Focused learning

Rod Bristow
President, Pearson UK

Engineering remains one of the true professions in this country. Alongside other career paths, such as medicine, law, teaching, and others, its professionals are respected as experts in their chosen fields. Traditionally, these careers have also had in common a clear entry route for young people: excellent focused A-level choices followed by university and then professional qualifications.

But as an employer, I know that there is no longer a single route that our employees follow. In the context of our increasingly competitive and global economy, it is no surprise that most employers are demanding more from their prospective entry-level applicants. Academic ability alone no longer sets candidates apart from the crowd. Increasing importance is being placed on work placements; evidence of practical implementation of knowledge; and an understanding of the engineering market.

At Pearson, we work with schools and colleges in our provision of the very A levels students will often be studying towards for their place at university. However, we also work with these institutions to offer more vocational courses. Twenty-five years ago, we developed a BTEC in engineering for students who have a clear career focus at 16 to enable them to gain relevant practical skills alongside their academic learning.

Universities are increasingly vocal about the need for students and graduates with appropriate skills

Students studying for a BTEC in engineering have the opportunity to focus their learning in advance of their university course and engage with the core elements of engineering while also gaining the academic rigour required by universities and employers. BTEC students study a broad base of engineering areas with modules developed in partnership with industry, which range from aircraft propulsion systems to railway infrastructure construction and maintenance. This approach enables students to demonstrate their commitment to engineering as well as their aptitude for the field.

It is not only employers who are demanding more from their prospective workforce. University admissions tutors are also now increasingly vocal about the need for appropriately skilled students and graduates. While studying for A levels will always suit some students’ learning styles, we are seeing increasing numbers of students taking the BTEC in engineering, preferring the vocational option. Significantly, Russell Group universities welcome applications from vocational students for competitive courses.

Newcastle University is one Russell Group member that welcomes students applying with a range of qualifications, including BTEC. Newcastle University’s head of undergraduate admissions told us that these students demonstrate a high level of practical skills alongside theoretical knowledge, which, together with a strong base in maths, is particularly appropriate for competitive and career-focused courses such as engineering.

For many, engineering is a vocation. Perhaps then it is not surprising that the vocational route into the profession is so respected and valued by universities and employers. It may not be the traditional method, but in an ever-changing environment with new demands, every industry will need to be open to a wider range of entry routes.

We believe the BTEC in engineering will be increasingly recognised as equipping a new generation of engineers with the knowledge and practical skills needed to successfully compete with their peers. After all, it is these same young people who will ensure that UK engineering continues to compete internationally and remain one of our most respected professions.

Rod Bristow, President, Pearson UK
1980 BSc in psychology from University College London
1993 Managing director, Pitman Publishing
2000 President, Pearson Higher and Professional Education business in Europe, Middle East and Africa
2010 President, Pearson UK