SOE News

Coventry College expand on winning skills formula

9th Nov 2017

Coventry College is taking a fresh approach to attracting young people into engineering. As part of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, we speak to Assistant Principal for Employer Engagement and Growth, Clare Hatton, about the role the college has taken in bridging the engineering skills gap.

“A lot of the promotion around our courses is concentrated on career pathways. The conversation is now more about engineering in its wider context, whether that’s digital networking engineering, or other streams that have emerged in recent years. We use a lot of case studies and talk to people about the different career paths, earning potential, and getting people to think beyond engineering in the traditional sense,” said Clare.

According to Clare, schools – which often take much of the criticism when it comes to the skills shortage - face a difficult task in presenting children with the options an engineering career offers, especially given the profession is so broad.

“I think it’s very hard for schools because many don’t have full time career specialists. It’s a lot to expect teachers to know the nuances of all those different careers. As a wider education sector, across the city, I don’t think we come together well enough yet to provide the breadth of guidance that young people need. I don’t think the onus should be solely on schools - Colleges and employers should support schools in giving advice, so I think it’s about building these different relationships and finding ways to best deliver that information to young people; that’s the key,” said Clare.

Coventry College, opened officially this year with the merger of City College Coventry and Henley College Coventry and benefits from a long history of engineering in the city, said Clare. Securing a job at local manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), has long been a big draw for aspiring young engineers. “It’s all heavily geared towards engineering and manufacturing, here. The engineering courses we offer are very popular, even at a time where the city has increased its engineering provision with University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and specialist manufacturing academies opening. There is still a great demand for engineering here at the college.

“We still don’t have as many girls on our courses as we would like. I think it’s matter of how we talk about engineering, and to move away from the oily, greasy image that some people still have,” said Clare. “Female role models are really powerful and play an important part in showing young girls the options open to them.”

One major challenge, said Clare, is attracting teachers with both the ability to captivate their audience, and have experience of the workplace. “We want people who are capable, enthusiastic, and can deliver. We want someone who can inspire the next generation of young people, who perhaps has had ten years’ experience in the workplace. We’ve done that with our bus and coach engineering, where we’ve got several staff straight from industry and we’ve taught them to be teachers. As a result we’ve got some great engineers who are enthusiastic about passing on their skills. Pay can be an issue though, as engineers can earn more in industry compared to the pay scales in teaching. That is a big challenge for us,” added Clare.

In keeping an open dialogue with employers, Coventry College have seen the benefit in creating programmes that draw out transferable skills, such as coding and handling mass data.

“We work a lot on the skills side, rather than training that is too product specific – so that skills are transferable when programmes change. Also, being able to offer the most up-to-date equipment is crucial particularly, say, in the bus and coach sector, where you’re dealing with diagnostics, hybrid vehicles, and a range of new technology. It’s the same with many other forms of engineering; these advances have happened so quickly that from an investment point of view, it’s very difficult to be up to date. Teaching young people on the range of equipment and products that they will use in the workplace can be very challenging and costly,” added Clare.

Looking to the future, Coventry College is positive about the challenges ahead, and very much looking forward, not backwards.

“It’s an exciting time for us now, as we’re the only further education college in the city. We’ve just launched our new digital apprenticeships. We do talk about digital in our engineering offer because there’s a lot of network engineering and software development that creates different pathways and routes. We’ll be launching a new curriculum next September, which will increase our engineering provision again.

“We benefit hugely from our partnership with Fujitsu, which provides us with the most contemporary equipment in our hub. We very much look at how digital is used across our curriculum – not just in IT related subjects. Digital is a now a way of doing business, rather than something that can only be applied to one subject. We also use our Hub to reach out to the local community with coding clubs for 8-12-year-olds, giving them exposure to engineering principles at a younger age. This allows us to start having that dialogue much earlier. We must find ways of staying relevant with the students and industry,” said Clare.

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