Closing the Skills Gap

Posted on 14 Nov 2013 by The Manufacturer

There are many schools engagement programmes in the UK which aim to inspire young people with a desire to pursue an industrial career – but what about inspiring teachers? Cheryl Phillips, Skills Gap programme director at the D&T Association explains its very different approach to addressing industrial skills shortages.

In October, schools and businesses came together to form a partnership to up-skill Design & Technology (D&T) teachers, and young people, through a programme called Skills Gap. Renishaw Plc, Alucast, and Airbus are the first to participate in the programme which is managed by the Design & Technology Association.

With a million under 24 year olds unemployed in a stagnant economy, it is important for teachers and businesses to work together to ensure that young people understand what’s out there for them if they gain the right skills and experience.

D&T is, or should be, an important enabling subject for manufacturing and engineering careers. It helps young people understand how to apply STEM knowledge and to realise the exciting interactions between design, manufacture or construction and product use

But the value of the subject in developing young people for careers in tomorrow’s industry can only be optimised if teachers understand how to contextualise their curriculum in an up to date, engaging manner.

The Skills Gap programme aims to help them do this

Training and tutoring teachers

Over a period of five months, Skills Gap focuses on the skills and knowledge development of D&T teachers by providing an industry-linked, structured programme of training, coaching and assessment to develop curriculum and business-relevant:

  • Technical & soft skills
  • Creativity & innovation
  • Insights into relevant education & career pathways
  • Teaching resources accessible to all schools

Applying new understanding

After training and coaching, teachers are supported by Skills Gap in practicing their new skills during curriculum time with their own pupils.

Employee volunteers from the participating businesses co-deliver technical aspects to help build confidence among teachers and their pupils. Employee volunteers support the development of industry-linked projects focusing on the design of a product to develop or a problem to solve from within their business.

This will expose teachers and pupils to the real world of increasingly integrated design, engineering and manufacturing.

Target teachers and students

Skills Gap is beginning in secondary schools and activities will meet the needs of 11- 14 year olds following Design &

Technology or 14-16 year olds following GCSE or equivalent programmes in D&T, engineering or manufacturing.

The programme compliments a range of work being undertaken by the D&T Association to ensure that D&T in schools is fit for the 21st century.

To extend the programme’s reach, all materials generated by the programme will be shared via training events, made available on-line and accessible to all schools in the summer of 2014.

Renishaw already works closely with a range of schools in its locality but decided to participate in this new scheme because of its emphasis on up-skilling D&T teachers and sharing learning throughout the UK.

Professor Geoff McFarland, group engineering director at Renishaw explains, “We employ 2,200 people in the UK and operate on a global scale. We want to talk to local young people and those further afield to ensure we get the best candidates.

“By empowering D&T teachers with skills relevant to our business, both at our sites and through regional training, we are looking to make young people aware of the opportunities there are within our business when they have the right skills and aptitude.”


Part of a bigger picture

Skills Gap embodies the majority of the recommendations made in the recently published Engineering Skills Review led

by Professor Perkins ( including learning and development opportunities for apprentices.

This characteristic in the programme is particularly appealing to Gary Griffiths, head of early careers programmes at Airbus in the UK.

“We are looking forward to partnering with [local secondary school] Ysgol Clewedog to raise skills among D&T teachers,” comments Mr Griffiths. “We employ approximately 100 apprentices each year in the UK and as well as finding ways to engage more closely with teachers and young people, we also look to provide interesting and fulfilling personal development opportunities for our apprentices and direct entry graduates which help them to develop other skills.

“Coaching teachers and young people is a good challenge for our apprentices and graduates as well an excellent way for schools to access some of our technical capability.”

The Skills Gap programme from the D&T Association has ambitions to extend the scheme across primary and further education as well as secondary. The scheme is also actively seeking to engage businesses and employee volunteers across a range of industries relevant to the content and objectives of the D&T curriculum including food, textiles and design businesses, both large and small.

Specialist castings firm Alucast is the first SME to come on board with the Skills Gap pilot scheme. Tony Sartorius, managing director of Alucast explains that he wanted to make sure it developed as a scheme firms like his could engage with. “Small businesses have a significant role to play in the future of the economy and we at Alucast want to invest in the skills of young people to ensure we feed the talent pipeline for our future and the future of the local community,” he says.

“We are very much looking forward to working with the ACE Academy, Tipton [via Skills Gap].”

TM will track the progress of Skills Gap pilot programmes over the next five months. Look out online and in the magazine for reaction to the scheme from the industrial partners involved as well as teachers.