Academics find vocation

Posted on 3 Feb 2011 by The Manufacturer

London South Bank University puts apprenticeships before degree qualification in a groundbreaking project with Semta.

One of London’s oldest and largest universities, London South Bank University (LSBU) has committed to supporting the status of apprenticeship learning. LSBU has teamed up with Sector Skills Council, Semta, to formulate new skills delivery regime for engineering undergraduates. The initiative, announced today, will see engineering undergraduate students being trained to higher apprenticeship standards during work placements with small and medium-sized companies as an integral part of their study.

Higher level skills are growing in importance to the long-term future of the engineering sector as low-cost engineering moves abroad and the UK increasingly competes on the basis of added value concepts and niche products. The new scheme proposed by LSBU and Semta will not only enhance the CVs of engineering graduates with an extra qualification, but will also ensure that the technical knowledge they gain on their degree course is anchored by strong understanding of workplace practices and real life applications. Dovetailing apprenticeship training with engineering degrees should also help to dissipate a lingering stigma over apprenticeship training as being a route for the less able or ambitious; an inequality of vocational versus academic education which has existed for decades.

Undergraduates at LSBU should be optimistic about the added value an apprenticeship qualification will give their degree. Figures from the Office for National Statistics have shown that graduate unemployment almost doubled during the recession and that the rate at which unemployment has been increasing in this population segment is considerably above the overall national trend.

Employers looking to take on new staff are valuing workplace experience, knowledge of best practice and industry standards more highly than ever and engineering graduates with additional apprenticeship qualifications will undoubtedly be better placed than pure graduate peers to gain employment on leaving university.

The involvement of Semta in the restructuring of LSBUs engineering degree course will hopefully boost employer confidence in the returns probable from employing future graduates. The SSC for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies has a deep-rooted knowledge of industry dynamics and is employer led in its development of policy and training. Philip Whiteman, Chief Executive of Semta said: “We are uniquely placed to understand the individual skills needs of businesses in our sectors. Many of the 130,000 companies we represent are demanding higher level knowledge and practical skills. Our industries need 10,000 recruits a year with higher level skills between now and 2016.

A further benefit to this new style for degree delivery is that it will protect SMEs who would like to support apprenticeships but cannot commit to to long term employment of a trainee. Funding for the Semta-LSBU project has come from the Royal Academy of Engineering as part of its National Higher Education STEM Programme and so Professor Rao Bhamidimarri, Executive Dean of Engineering, Science and the Built Environment at LSBU explains: “SMEs will be able to host higher level apprentices without committing to providing employment once they have completed their studies and the students will benefit from the additional Higher Apprenticeship qualification and experience in the workplace.”

Key aims and objectives of the LSBU project will guide further development and help maintain standards. Primary among the objectives so far laid out are:

•Engaging SME employers in the development of professional engineering technicians and engineers

•Improving the employability skills of undergraduate students

•Improving higher education degree course curriculum in light of working with SME employers, and aligning occupational standards of competence

•Getting higher education involved in apprenticeship training leading to professional engineering registration.