Mind the gap: lost in translation

Skills Gap Programme Director at the D&T Association, Cheryl Philips, stresses the importance of the manufacturing industry working with educators to ensure the next generation of engineers.

Skills Gap Programme Director at the Design & Technology Association Cheryl Phillips
Skills Gap Programme Director at the Design & Technology Association Cheryl Phillips

During November 2014, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) published Engineering Skills: Perkins Progress Report. This follows the recommendations made by Professor John Perkins in the previous year to create the conditions to increase the supply of engineers. The report highlights much of the progress already made and the continuing need for engineering employers, educators and government to work together.

One of the recommendations was that: “The engineering community should provide continuing professional development for teachers, giving them experience of working in industry to put their academic teaching in practical context and enabling them to inspire and inform their students about engineering.”

The report highlights some of the progress made against this with the development of an escalator model, where teachers can access an experience of work ranging from one day to two weeks from existing provision. Many primary and secondary school teachers have limited or no experience of business and industry, so if all schools were to ensure that every teacher took one day per year to gain an experience of work then this would be a huge step forward. To achieve this across the board, schools may need to be held accountable for ensuring that teachers are given the opportunity to gain an experience of work. They currently are not.

As a first step, an experience of work, takes us in the right direction. My concern is that it can only go so far in helping both teachers and employers establish the link between the language used to describe processes and procedures in business and the language found in the curriculum. In the case of Design & Technology, curriculum and specification content such as current industrial processes or using the industry context, encompasses a broad spectrum of possibilities found in industry, from quality to logistics. Breaking the industry context down into component parts which fit individual lessons or could become the focus of a school project would take a depth of training and industry insight beyond that which is possible through a one-day experience of work.

If the links are lost in translation it becomes challenging for the teacher to do more than add a simple reference to business rather than demonstrating the clear linkage between specific curriculum content and industry requirements. However, this is a critical point in ensuring the sustained success of a partnership which impacts upon learning and goes beyond inspiring students.