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Sevcon launches it's £200,00 bursary fund

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sevcon has been left so frustrated by the shortage of skilled workers it launched its own Pounds 200,000 bursary scheme. One of the first recipients of the Sevcon award is Danielle Walsh, a 20-year-old software engineering student at Northumbria University. Last week, Danielle began a summer work programme with her sponsor company at its global headquarters in Gateshead. She said: "Educational institutes don''t really do enough to inspire and teach about engineering. Most young people don''t know the different sides of engineering, and what engineers even do." " Danielle, 20, also highlights these prevailing attitudes amongst her peers: Engineering isn't glamorous like media or drama, and is perceived to be 'very geeky'; Engineering appears too complicated; Engineering is only a man''s job; Young people believe that to be an engineer you have to be good at maths.

Danielle's boss, Sevcon president and chief executive Matt Boyle, launched the bursary scheme last year to help secure a supply of skilled staff for the company's future growth. For many years, he has had significant problems recruiting skilled engineers to help develop its ground-breaking green vehicle technology. He believes more needs to be done in the region's schools to encourage youngsters into engineering, as he explains in his comment piece on the opposite page. Early next month, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) will publish its response to the recent Adonis North East Economic Review, which highlighted the need to focus on training and skills issues. It placed particular emphasis on the need to improve school attainment and boost the uptake of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. It also wants to see an immediate doubling of engineering youth apprenticeships and for academic bodies to offer more engineering options.

The report said: "The uptake of STEM qualifications is of particular importance given the need to provide a highly-skilled workforce in advanced manufacturing sectors. It is notable that employers regularly report difficulties in recruiting personnel with technical skills in engineering." Michelle Duggan, skills adviser to the NELEP, acknowledges the issues raised by the region's business community and says it will foster closer ties with schools. She said: "At the moment, we don't have a strong enough throughput of children doing the STEM subjects. The Adonis Review recommends there should be two people from business on each board of school governors to encourage the development of the appropriate skills." The problems faced by Sevcon resonate across North East industry.  The North East Chamber of Commerce's (NECC) recent quarterly economic survey reported that many of its members could grow their workforces more quickly if the right skills were available.

Ross Smith, director of policy at NECC, said: "It is critical that maximum effort is put into addressing skills shortages to help us grow the regional economy." Andrew Hodgson is chairman of industry body Subsea North East, chief executive of Tyneside subsea engineering business SMD, and board member of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, with responsibility for skills development. He said: "The single most important thing that will add value to the region or to an individual is increasing skill levels. "It is the job of the North East LEP to make sure that the right skills are in the right place at the right time for the region's development. This includes communicating what skills are required in the future, ensuring training provision is focussed on those areas, and ensuring every individual has the opportunity to attain their potential. There is no magic pill to achieve this overnight. It will involve employers understanding the value of increasing skills and proactively encouraging their development, providers - including schools, colleges, private training companies - delivering the right skills for the future, the Government putting in place the framework to stimulate positive behaviours, and most importantly, individuals having the aspiration and drive to gain the skills which will offer them a better future. Substantive results will only happen when each of these interlink cohesively. Then all these individual decisions will add up to create a real regional impact." Last month, the NELEP's skills' drive was given a boost after it was chosen by the Government as one of only three LEPs to control the spending of skills funding in its area.

One current initiative which has the full support of the NELEP, is Newcastle College's Discovery School development. It aims to train the North East's engineers and technicians of the future, with an annual school roll of 720 14 to 19-year-olds. It is expected to open in Newcastle next month. One of the region's economic success stories is the process sector, which comprises over 500 businesses in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and chemical industries. They generate in excess of Pounds 10bn of sales and comprise 30% of the region''s industrial base, employing thousands of people. The North East Processing Industry Cluster (Nepic) represents these companies and says its members need at least 10,000 people over the next decade - with the average age of most skilled staff now in the mid-50s. It recently helped with the creation of the National Skills Academy for the Process Industry, which is based in Darlington and works with employers to tackle their skills issues.

Nepic's chief executive Stan Higgins praised the work of multi- nationals such as Sembcorp which continue to invest in training and apprentice schemes on Teesside. However, he added: "We still have a fundamental problem. That is over the last 20 years we have moved from big UK-owned corporate owners in the process industry, who used to commit to the training of hundreds of apprentices, to an industry dominated by overseas branch offices and SME owners, neither of these groups, as yet, take on enough apprentices to impact on the demographics of the sector in the UK." Danielle Walsh is the first Northumbria University student to win a place on the Sevcon scheme and joins Newcastle University undergraduate Ehsan Dehghan-Azad.

The vehicle controller company is aiming to recruit additional students from both universities, paying their Pounds 8,500 tuition fees, with guaranteed jobs on graduation. Manchester-born Danielle, who is studying for a BSc (Hons) Ethical Hacking for Computer Security, highlights the dilemmas youngsters' face and what can be done to attract more into engineering She said: "People tend to enjoy media and drama, which they find easy, so tend to choose this option when forced to choose a degree before they even get A-level results. I think it''s hard to make the right decision at that stage of your life, when you''re still developing your personality and universities have to work with your predicted grades. I think the anxiety of choosing a more academic subject and trying to get that high grade to get into university is too daunting for young people. I didn''t grow up with aspirations in engineering, but during my first week at Sevcon I''ve been able to experience first-hand the awe-inspiring hybrid technology that has been created. "I think if schools and organisations worked more closely, and there were exhibitions where people could see engineering in action, and schools actually did more to help educate young people on the different sides to engineering it would really help. If young people knew how accessible engineering is, how rewarding it can be, and how it gives you really good job prospects, it would make a real difference." IMPORTANT TO START EARLY THE UK used to be a making economy, but in the1980's, we were told, and some believed, we could thrive as a service economy. I think there is now a realisation that a balanced economy is a better model. If I am right, then how do we go about becoming a making economy again? I do not have to tell anyone that being lowest cost in manufacturing we have some way to go, probably too far. Therefore, the solution, I think, is to become an innovative, intellectual property-rich, high-quality economy, focused on staying technologically ahead of the competition. New green technology and biochemistry, for example, are areas where we excel today that did not exist 10 years ago. The danger is that we are not developing the resources to stay in the lead. It is estimated that over the next seven years, engineering employers will need more than 800,000 professional scientists, engineers and technologists, of which 80% will be engineers. That is in addition to 450,000 technicians. As a business reliant on staying ahead of our competition, we desperately need skilled engineers and technicians in Gateshead. We are not getting enough high-school leavers either through degree courses or into apprenticeships. Partly because engineering is not perceived as an attractive career. Changing the perception of an engineering career is the way forward.

Many employers work with sixth forms and universities to engage with prospective graduates on an engineering career. Our experience is that is too late, so many brilliant young minds have been lost to other professions, professions that do not make things. So how do you do that in a connected world? You start early - in the junior schools. To help with this problem, we started another programme this year, one of engagement with primary and secondary schools to enthuse about engineering. I was interested to read that Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, in a trial, has given the Local Enterprise Partnership control over skills spending. We desperately need that money spent in retraining and further educating the workforce. The skills gap is widening in electronic and electrical engineering. It is not the only area needing strategic spending; investment in higher education is laudable but unless the raw material is there, we're wasting money. We need to do both by investing in adult and further education as well as starting in the primary schools. We need to develop a pipeline of young people who want to make things.

Source: Newcastle Journal (England) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge

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