The Manufacturer’s plan to put manufacturers in schools

The Manufacturer has launched a campaign to get one manufacturing leader appointed to the governing board of a secondary school in every county in England and Wales.

In 2012 Autotech, a UK manufacturer of automation equipment had to turn away £10 million worth of business because managing director Andy Robinson knew he did not have the skills in his business to fulfil the contract.

It was a risk the MD had seen coming and at the time the company was already midway through setting up an apprenticeship academy with Semta to secure its skills needs in the future. The academy aims to make at least 10% of Autotech’s workforce apprentice trained.

We know that Autotech’s skills dearth was not unique. One shudders to think how many more millions of pounds have slipped through the fingers of UK manufacturers, particularly SMEs who find their competitiveness eking away as their workforce ages and retires while technology and markets bound ahead.

The rebirth of apprenticeships in manufacturing and engineering is crucial in addressing faltering UK industrial capability. Progress is being made. In January Semta reported that apprenticeships across its footprint have grown 85% in two years.

But increasing the availability and quality of apprenticeship training is just one link in the skills supply chain.

Manufacturer reaction

TM knows it is setting itself a big challenge with this campaign. But we are convinced it could make a real difference.

The initial response from industr y leaders to the campaign concept has largely been positive. TM is looking for governor candidates who are proactive and passionate on education issues and are leading exemplary manufacturing companies. Iain Maxted, MD of Guardian Global Technologies in Bridgend and Laura Bawden, finance director at acoustic technologies firm TMAT in Derbyshire have both said “count me in” to becoming governors and a growing pool of manufacturers are registering tentative interest ever y day.

“I’m so pleased to be involved with what is such a great campaign to help school children understand the importance of manufacturing and the exciting future career opportunities that it can represent. I’m more than happy to dedicate my time and experience to encouraging the next generation of manufacturers.” says Ms Bowden.

“Getting youngsters fired up about designing, creating and manufacturing products is so important because manufacturing is one of the very few activities which adds true value to a country’s economy,” says Mr Maxted.

The root cause of industry’s skills problems lies in the apathetic if not negative attitude of young people towards the prospect of a career in a manufacturing business – particularly in a technical role.

This is not ground breaking news. Reports and initiatives abound and are doing excellent work in setting up careers fairs, school visits, competitions and more. EngineeringUK, TeenTech and WorldSkills (or The Skills Show in the UK) and Scarborough Engineering Week are just a few of those sees as most notable.

But it has often been observed that the best way to change a system is from within.

That is why TM has launched its Back to School campaign which aims to get one manufacturing leader onto the school governing board of one secondary school in every county in England and Wales.

“It is essential that manufacturing leaders show they want to work with teachers and schools”Andrew Churchill, MD, JJ Churchill

The rules governing the appointment of school governors have recently changed, allowing schools more independence in deciding the make-up of their governing bodies. With the right approach this should allow manufacturers to develop a new collaborative, rather than combative as has sometimes seemed the case, relationship with teachers.

“It is essential that manufacturing leaders show they want to work with teachers and schools,” said Andrew Churchill, MD of SME engineering firm JJ Churchill and an advocate of TM’s Back to School Campaign.

“We are facing skills shortages and an uphill struggle in improving the image of manufacturing and communicating the progression that a career in the industry can offer. But if we seem to blame schools and teachers for this they will become understandably defensive.”

School governor responsibilities

Due to recent changes in the school governing constitution, maintained schools in England and Wales (schools in receipt of government support) have gained far more independence in being able to choose who they appoint to their governing board.

Manufacturing leaders can join governing boards as co-opted governors – or potentially as parent governors if they have children attending the school.

The responsibilities of school governors may vary from school to school but it is usually expected that a governor will:

  • Attend a termly board meeting
  • Collaborate with teaching staff to guide the development of a particular year group and/ or subject
  • Provide/suggest opportunities for curriculum enrichment
  • Hold office for a standard four years – shorter terms are possible but cannot be for less than one year

It is worth noting that a school governor does not have to live or run their business within a school catchment area in order to join the governing board.

Rukhsana Sheikh co-principal at Ernst Bevin School in Tooting, London is supportive of TM’s campaign. “Since the rules around the governor constitution changed we had been thinking that a governor from industry would be an asset to our board,” she told the magazine. “We have a good engineering department and send a relatively high number of students to study engineering at university each year. However, the teaching would benefit from greater insight into real world use of engineering.”

Questioning the quality and content of the national curriculum (p18/88) in Westminster and through consultation with Department for Education is one thing, but schools and teachers must conform to the framework they are given on a day to day basis to the best of their ability. Manufacturers can help them optimise their efforts.

“Schools perform the way they do because of how they are measured – just as our businesses do,” observes Churchill. “If we know that there is not room within the national curriculum for emphasizing which skills sets are important for manufacturing and why, then we need to find different ways of communicating that. Stepping inside the system seems to be an excellent way.”

Want to get involved?

Email Jane Gray ([email protected]) or Will Stirling ([email protected]) to express your interest in becoming a school governor or to suggest a secondary school in need of, and open to, appointing a manufacturing leader to its board.