1. Create a national framework with regional priorities
A government-led national work experience framework with flexibility to support local and regional needs should form an integral part of the UK’s new Industrial Strategy. This would see a region, city or town’s major Higher Education provider building a work experience ‘supply chain’ with large, medium-sized and small businesses, as well as with local schools and further education providers.
The Government has already demonstrated that it values ethical and professional learning by introducing the apprenticeships levy to help companies off-set the cost of employing apprentices. It should consider extending this levy to include internships and work placements. This would be particularly valuable for SMEs, who typically struggle with the tine and cost implications for offering work experience opportunities.
2. Create more locally-driven university-industry partnerships
Universities say they are unable to give their students practical experience as part of their degree programmes because they rarely have access to specialist facilities and machinery on campus that is used by specialist companies. There is a real need to develop more bespoke and local university-industry partnerships to provide greater access for students to gain hands-on experience of equipment used in the workplace.
3. Promote a work place register
A definitive register of work experience placements so that universities and students can see, at-a-glance, the opportunities available to them in engineering and technology firms regionally and nationally would be a very welcome step forward.
The National Centre for Universities and Business has created a website with information and advice for universities and businesses looking to offer work experience and has plans to develop a register in the coming months.
4. Help students meet the cost of work experience
Universities report that many students choose not to take on work experience placements outside of their locality due to the related costs of living, especially in London and the South East, which are not covered by their institution or the individual company. Any assistance that can be given, either by funding accommodation, ensuring that the salary attached to the placement is sufficient to cover accommodation costs, or through extending the existing Government Apprenticeship Levy to include work placements would all be welcome.
5. Shape the curriculum around engineering
Employers claim that it is only graduates who are really being encouraged into engineering. They feel that the changes to the national curriculum in 2000, when design and technology stopped being a compulsory GCSE subject, have impacted on the number of pupils achieving a GCSE in the subject. It has also resulted in a significant loss of teachers with the ability to teach the skills they need, including creativity and ingenuity. The Department of Education should consider how industry perspectives can be incorporated into a review of the curriculum and there is a major opportunity for it to do so as part of the UK’s new Industrial Strategy.
6. Engage teachers in the value of engineering
Employers suggest that schools teachers, as well as pupil and their parents, need to be engaged in engineering at a much earlier stage.
Having a co-ordinated teacher engagement programme in primary and secondary education to help teachers understand what engineering today is would help with their understanding of what types of initial work experience placements they should seek for their pupils. There should also be more teacher industrial placements in engineering as part of their own professional development
7. Offer work experience earlier on
Students in the first and second years of their university degree report particular challenges in gaining work experience opportunities, as they don’t have previous experience to offer an employer. Employees need to invest time in engaging with and offering work experience to students earlier on in their university career – otherwise the risk is that these students are more likely to pursue careers outside engineering. This could include offering feedback on why students’ applications for work experience are not successful.
8. Empower students to become ‘work-ready’
Students should be encouraged to take a proactive approach to finding work experience and developing the skills needed for today’s engineering workforce.There are various resources available to help students, for example the IET On Campus programme gives IET student-members access to practical, technical and career-related resources, as well as helping them to create links with industry and other universities. Other activities that are considered useful by employers are those students who take up engineering-based hobbies, get involved in societies or attend industry events.