A Coventry expert claims that school teachers hold the key to solving the shortage of manufacturing and engineering skills in the UK.
To be excited by a career in industry, Ken Young, technology director of the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), says that young people need to be encouraged to question how things work and how they are made at an early age.
Young’s views have been agreed on by teacher Jo Cox, who has been on secondment to the MTC at Ansty Park, as part of an Institution of Mechanical Engineers Teacher Industrial Partner scheme aimed at developing partnerships between engineering employers and schools.
To encourage interest among young people, Cox also believes that education policy makers need to make room for teens to learn key skills, and schools and industry need to work closely.
Ken Young said many youngsters grew up with a negative idea of engineering and manufacturing and so failed to consider it as a career.
He added: “By the time a youngster reaches the age of 16 it’s too late. Even 14 is too late. Pupils need to be enthused about industry and engineering as early as possible. It is up to teachers at our primary and secondary schools to encourage curiosity, and help children question how things are made. We look to teachers to be ambassadors for manufacturing and engineering, and this means they themselves must be well-informed.
“Youngsters often grow up with an image of factories and workshops being dirty, smelly places. The reality is that most modern factories are meticulously clean and look more like laboratories.
“It is an exciting and rewarding career which youngsters often overlook because of lack of information in schools. Some schools are very good at this and make time to let pupils experience industry. Others are curriculum focussed and don’t seem to give their students an opportunity to make informed career choices.”
Jo Cox, head of science and senior leader for STEM subjects at Hinckley’s Redmoor Academy, said teachers, as educators, were best placed to enthuse youngsters about future career opportunities by providing extracurricular activities such as engineering clubs and industry visits.
But she warned that often teachers hands were tied by the requirements of the curriculum and the need to achieve exam success.
“We can ensure that our students leave us well-informed, experienced in engineering and enthusiastic, but that does not make us a successful school,” she said. “The curriculum content does not fully address the key skills required by industry. Until education policymakers recognise the excellent efforts being made by teachers to support the requirements of industry it is unlikely there will be sufficient change in attitude.
“The key to success is starting young and some industry sectors are excellent at getting involved and providing opportunities for younger pupils. Some companies will refuse visits from Key Stage 3 pupils due to their age and are only interested in talking to post-16 students.
“If the responsibility for change lies with schoolteachers it ought to be recognised that certain industries need to rethink their educational policies too.”