You do the maths

Posted on 4 Apr 2011 by The Manufacturer

Semta has launched a new Maths for Engineering qualification to bridge shortfalls in the mainstream teaching of mathematics.

The manufacturing sector skills council, Semta, has developed the new Maths for Engineering (M4E) qualification in response to reports from university teachers that maths skills among students are lacking with regards to applied engineering.

The new Maths for Engineering (M4E) qualification has been developed by a consortium including the Semta-led Engineering Diploma Development Partnership, the Engineering Professors’ Council (EPC) and the Royal Academy of Engineering. It is recommended that the M4E be taken as a stand-alone qualification by 17-18 year olds seeking to progress into engineering degrees and Semta hopes that it will reduce dropout rates and allow more hopeful engineering student make it into industry employ with the necessary skills.

In response to the launch of the qualification Dr Geoff Parks, Director of Admissions at Cambridge University and an experienced engineer, said: “We see a lot of students applying through the A-level route whose applications are disadvantaged because the maths they’re studying is light on what we’d like them to be doing to prepare for an engineering degree. Often the relevant units have not been available to them or they have been ill advised. The content of M4E is guaranteed to be what’s needed.”

In addition to easing the educational burden on universities, allowing first year engineering degrees to dedicate more time to engineering skills themselves and less to underlying maths knowledge, the M4E will go some way towards alleviating the pressure on employers to re-educate first-year apprentices.

Companies like heavy engineering firm DavyMarkham have seen a marked increase in recent years in the number of first year apprentices joining them as a last minute switch from proposed university careers. However, both at this level, and at the earlier intake age of 16, DavyMarkham have found that maths skills are insufficient to safeguard the high quality standards and rigorous specifications that the firm’s work demands.

In response to this DavyMarkham has raised its qualification criteria for apprentices from a GCSE C grade, as is industry standard to a B grade. However even this step is not enough and the company takes on responsibility for considerably maths tutoring in the first year of its acclaimed apprenticeship programme. Hopefully the new M4E will take some of this teaching pressure off companies like DavyMarkham and allow them to devote more resources directly into the engineering and business skills so essential to a productive manufacturing employee.

However, although M4E will go some way towards guaranteeing that Engineering graduates have the necessary skills to move industry forward in the UK it cannot alter the fact that Britain faces a severe shortfall in the number of such qualified individuals. Semta research shows that an extra 13,400 new engineers, scientists and technologists will be required annually between now and 2016 if growth is to be sustained in the UK engineering industry. Further work is therefore needed on engaging with schools and altering the perception of parent about the prospects of careers in engineering and manufacturing.