STEM students key to educating SMEs

Posted on 17 Feb 2015 by Jonny Williamson

Dr Gordon Mizner, Chief Executive of the Engineering Development Trust argues that employer/ education STEM linking programmes provide a crucial opportunity for businesses which are frequently missed by small and medium manufacturers.

Branston Community College Team demonstrate an EES project
Branston Community College Team demonstrate an EES project.

It is a strange phenomenon that the engineering industry is overcome with problems in acquiring the skills they need from school leavers, and yet manufacturing companies can be very slow in taking up the opportunities to engage with schools in helping inspire able students into engineering and science careers.

The benefits for companies

The Engineering Education Scheme (EES) is 30 years old and regularly engages with over 1,200 sixth form students each year to work on real company projects. Indeed over 30,000 students have taken part in EES since its inception. Is this a worthwhile activity for these companies?

Let’s hear it from the companies themselves:

Steve Birnie, head of engineering at BorgWarner Turbo comments: “BorgWarner Turbo Systems are strongly committed to EES as we recognise how vital it is for students thinking about a career in industry to gain insights by working on a real project in a real commercial environment.

“It is really exciting to see young people discovering the same enthusiasm for science and engineering that we have at BorgWarner Turbo Systems and of course we have the opportunity to get to know some really talented young scientists and engineers which is a positive benefit for the company’s talent pipeline.”

Tom Hammond, graduate engineer at Siemens who mentored students on an EES project remarked: “The project for me personally was of huge benefit as the mentoring aspect contributes towards my engineering chartership.

“For Siemens Industry the project outcome was not only a test rig which saves time and money internationally but also the potential for more test rigs to be produced. It is important for Siemens to engage with the EES to help to inspire the next generation of engineers through experience in real world engineering challenges and projects.”

Luke Bridges, systems engineer for Thales UK and EES Project Link said: “It is easy to assume that the projects given to EES teams are in some ways not ‘real’ commercial projects but this would be wrong. EES enables a company to dedicate relatively inexpensive resource to what may well be a niggly, and time consuming project which otherwise could be very expensive to undertake.

“As my own experience demonstrates, EES allows Thales to develop relationships with potential future employees. We will provide references and sometimes part time work for students that show an interest and ongoing contact can provide benefits that work for both sides.”

The benefits for students

Schooling Business PQThe same logic can work for large and small companies and the impact of programmes like EES on the students is well proven.

A recent survey of former EES students shows just how beneficial the programme can be with 91.2% of students undertaking the programme then going on to study science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) subjects at university. 77% of EES students’ first jobs were in engineering or technology companies.

It is often said that if the UK breaks the secret of encouraging girls into engineering the skills gap problem would be overcome. On this front EES has an even better story to tell. Of female former EES students, a big 84% go into engineering or technology jobs. At present a third of EES participants are female.

We could do even better if visionary companies worked with us to help inspire more girls into industry.

Projects to suit the company

The options are widely varied on the sort of projects that are undertaken. One team from Ripon Grammar School found themselves involved in the research and development of a method for dispensing the decorative materials onto cakes through the nozzle in a way which attempts to mimic the method used by human operators with piping bags.

Another team from Bournside School in Cheltenham were designing a man-worn health monitoring system for a professional soldier. Another from Luton Sixth Form College were asked to design and create a radio frequency detector with the ability to detect the direction of the source of the frequency.

The output was then planned to be used by an unmanned vehicle to deploy supplies to the area where the beacon is located. The detector had to be able to filter out unwanted frequencies such as those from other beacons.

Schooling Business PQGiven the state of available skills in UK industry, the limit on the number of students taking part in EES each year is not the students’ willingness to take part, it is the availability of companies that are sufficiently visionary to see the importance of and opportunities involved in engaging with a scheme like EES.

The future improvement of the UK manufacturing skills base will need a step change in the level of engagement of manufacturing companies with education.