Closing the Skills Gap: pilot update 3

Posted on 11 Feb 2014 by The Manufacturer

Cheryl Phillips, Skills Gap programme director at the Design and Technology Association relates how valuable ground work in teacher training enhanced the value of a recent school visit to SME Alucast.

Alucast recently hosted a school visit to its premises, as part of the D&T Association’s Skills Gap Programme.

Year 9 students, with teachers from ACE Academy, spent a day at the site to launch the results of six weeks of teacher training and coaching by Alucast and the Skills Gap programme.

The teacher training included joint sessions in which they were introduced to computer modelling skills that they can use on school equipment. Teachers have also been helped to develop lesson plans that relate to the real business needs and environment they have come to know at Alucast.

Alucast was a key supplier in the making of the Olympic torch for the London 2012 Olympic Games and teachers have keenly taken in lessons about the technical considerations and customer interface involved in this high profile project.

Working together, the school and the business have enhanced the teachers’ ability to represent with integrity the skills requirements and career pathways available at an SME business like Alucast.

With strong understanding of one another’s needs now in place, the company and the school have moved on to present challenges to students.


For further information about the Skills Gap programme, attend TM’s Workforce Development Conference on Feb 25 in London where Cheryl Phillips will present alongside Lord Baker, founder of the UTC movement, Carol Burke, Managing Director of Unipart Manufacturing, George Edwards, the 17 year old founder of Gas Sensse, Anna Schlautmann, TM’s Apprentice of the Year 2013 from MBDA and more.

Visit the conference website for more information.


Student project

They are pursuing a project which will see pupils explore the principles of manufacturing in quantity, quality control and iterative design when developing cast parts in materials such as Aluminium – but also for materials used in school.

Over the next few weeks, teachers and Alucast employees will support the students to design and make their own casted products in school.

As they develop the products, the project will support the students to develop problem solving and self management skills; the personal qualities which Alucast look for in their apprentices.

To help set the scene for the project, the day started with an introduction to the business. Employee representatives from Alucast also talked about their own careers and current jobs.

Students then toured the factory to see the different parts of the foundry including a demonstration of the sand-casting process to produce a mould to fit the students’ designs.

The Alucast project manager showed each stage of the process, highlighting potential production issues and discussing how to overcome these whilst the D&T teacher was on-hand to translate the industry example into some of the language and terminology the children have been accustomed to in the classroom.

Following the tour Graham Williams, a D&T teacher from ACE Academy, said: “This was a really useful session.  It was great for pupils to see things for themselves and, as I’d visited the foundry before with my D&T colleagues, I was able to pick up on significant points which the Alucast employees were demonstrating and link these to what we’ve been discussing in school.

“I’m looking forward to the business coaches working with us in classroom sessions as their input will help to reinforce the messages as we put new skills into practice”

Context made clear

To set the  foundry work in a broader context and demonstrate the variety of uses that their end products get used for, Alucast had also arranged for one of their motor industry customers to visit during the day and show where aluminium-castings feature in the manufacture  of their cars.

Andrew Callaghan, Alucast foundry manager, commented: “This is the first time we’ve arranged a school visit at the factory and it went very well.  I was pleased with the support of the shop-floor staff and the pupils were great.  We were able to answer their questions and I was delighted to be asked by one lad about the possibility of work experience at the foundry as he was clearly inspired by what he saw.”

The student in question added:  “Today was brilliant.  I’ve thought about being an engineer and I’m now really interested in working in this kind of industry.”

Next steps

The school’s project will continue over the coming weeks, concluding with a feedback session delivered by teachers and pupils to showcase the new skills they have developed.

Teachers’ lesson plans and materials will be developed into a sharable scheme of work and available to schools for download on the Skills Gap Programme website later this year.