Communication is key to encouraging young people to follow a career in engineering, and local organisations have a big role to play, says David Owen
With the economy back in growth mode, the national mood isbeginning to turn. In Gloucestershire, GFirst LEP is one of 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships in England to ensure that the county is successful and profitable, with strong job prospects, skilled people and the right infrastructure in place, such as high-speed broadband and faster transport links. Priorities are formulated to allow existing businesses to grow and encourage more start-up businesses.
Like many of the other LEPs, a major priority on our agenda as part of our Strategic Growth Plan in our “Growing Gloucestershire” campaign is to engage young people in Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and to follow a career in these subjects.
In the UK, the engineering sector alone represents around a quarter of business turnover and employs some 5.6 million people. In Gloucestershire, we’re proud to already have a strong base of specialised engineering and manufacturing companies that are flourishing. However, we realise that we need to continue to encourage young people to follow a career in engineering in order to fulfil the skill-set requirements of tomorrow. It’s critical to our future economic growth.
We believe the answer lies in effective communication between engineers and schools. In Gloucestershire, we already have some valuable examples of how this has worked for the benefit of businesses and for the education sector.
Our Advanced Engineering and Manufacturing Sector Group has made great progress by working with specialist engineering and manufacturing companies in Gloucestershire and linking them with primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities. The success of the project speaks for itself; 5,000 pupils have been on the scheme already since March this year. It has been so successful with businesses and schools alike, we aim to repeat the programme later this year on a wider scale across the county.
Another example of how the Advanced Engineering and Manufacturing Sector Group has been helping to address the skills shortage in engineering is best illustrated by the work of Moog, a global designer and manufacturer of precision motion-control systems with a base in Tewkesbury. Moog and GFirst LEP worked together to develop the ‘Moog Academy’, which includes a regular programme of visits from local schools to Moog’s facilities. It not only educates the pupils about the exciting career opportunities on offer, it also ensures that teachers understand how the curriculum can equip young people for the business world.
We want this type of activity mirrored across our county and the rest of the UK. The net impact will be a more tailored education system and a sustainable future for the 500,000 firms that currently make up the UK’s engineering sector.
Day to day, the commercial benefits of engaging with your local LEP are clear. These are the networks of the future, the central hubs that unite the private and public sectors in a common goal. In so doing, they provide invaluable opportunities to connect with new contacts at every level.
In the next 12 months, LEPs across the country will be working with local businesses to create a plan for economic growth. This will shape each region’s long-term economic development and real business involvement will be key.
In Gloucestershire, the process of consulting with business is continuing through a mix of meetings, events, newsletters and digital forums. Engineers can expect to see a similar process of engagement and interaction up and down the country and I’d urge them to get involved and ensure that the sector’s priorities are high on the agenda as these 10-year growth plans are developed.
There is no doubt that LEPs are organisations with teeth and real strategic influence, run by business for business with a strong connection to the public sector. As they develop long-term economic growth plans for their areas over the coming months, engineers have a valuable opportunity to get involved. The clear message is act now and help shape a sustainable future.
Mr Owen is Chief executive of GFirst LEP (the Local Enterprise Partnership for Gloucestershire)