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Taking Training Forward

24 May 2013

The shortage of engineers and skilled technicians in the UK is having an impact on the ability of small and medium sized enterprises to recruit. Here, the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA) explains some of its initiatives to address the problem

The MTA has a commitment to encourage engineering-based training at all levels. The Association also actively supports the development of innovative apprenticeships. The MTA’s teaming with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) at the University of Sheffield to offer Commercial Engineering Apprenticeships is an example of how some of the shortages can be addressed.

An holistic approach needs to be taken to address the UK’s engineering skills shortages. Proposed changes to the teaching of Design and Technology in schools are causing great concern to large engineering employers. They value the academic rigour of the existing approach to Design and Technology and emphasise that it is underpinned by its own body of knowledge, principles and concepts. The manufacturing employers, however, recognise that the subject’s curriculum needs to be more coherent and to move away from the focus on sub-disciplines. The employers recognise that ultimately to produce good engineers you need to develop research, design, problem solving, communications and practical skills at an early age. A robust Design and Technology curriculum, they maintain, is central to instilling suitable skills at an early age.

Earlier this year The Deputy Prime Minister, Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP, welcomed the collaboration between the MTA and the AMRC at Sheffield University to develop new Apprenticeship Pathways under the Employer Ownership of Skills programme. The initiative will enable MTA members and companies from other sectors to develop their own talent within a structured framework and allow for individual company requirements at the same time. The MTA is committing substantial resources to the project, perhaps up to £500,000 including funds to make sure that the pathways are deliverable across the country.

Nick Clegg said: "We are consistently as a government looking, as we expand apprenticeships, to make sure that quality goes with quantity. That's not always been the case. One of the most pernicious brakes on our prosperity is the assumption that the only good thing for a young person at the end of their time at school is to go on and do a degree at university.”

The first year of the Pathway will focus on engineering skills (performing engineering operations and engineering extension classes) and also introduce elements of business awareness and a foreign language. 

Throughout the course learners would have access to master class sessions hosted by MTA members. The intention is for the first year’s intake, including around 25 students from Association members, to start in 2013/14.

The winners of the MTA’s recent Manufacturing Industry Awards give an indication of some of the most effective training initiatives in the sector. The MTA’s Best Training Scheme Award, for instance, identified those training programmes that are both innovative and deliver results. This year’s winner was the CNC Training Academy which, since its launch in 2010, has trained more than 800 people from more than 400 companies. Training has been delivered at either its Leamington Spa headquarters or at customer’s own sites demonstrating the flexibility of approach.

The Academy’s Leamington Spa training facility represents an investment of more than £50,000 in the latest computer systems. The two training rooms are equipped with Fanuc and Heidenhain simulators and fully interactive whiteboards. Customers also have access to a machine tool showroom containing various CNC Machine Tools which allows them to have hands on experience during the course.

As part of the MTA’s Manufacturing Industry Awards the AMTRI Scholarship is awarded to a promising young engineer to drive his or her continuous professional development programme, pursue postgraduate study or to enhance an education led project. The winner this year was Mitchell Howard, a 26 year-old graduate engineer at Mollart Engineering.

Howard has largely been responsible for managing  two key projects inside Mollart, the first being Acubore, steerable gundrill technology that ensures drilling tools are capable of maintaining their direction over increasing lengths of penetration and the second project which is to match and monitor advanced fluid dynamics simulation for abrasive flow machining. These grant funded development projects involved Howard’s co-ordination of different universities, equipment suppliers and overall management.

He is currently enrolled and sponsored by Mollart Engineering on the Engineering Doctorate (EngD) programme administered by Brunel University and the University of Surrey. Completion of the programme will then enable direct application into the CEng process with the IMechE.  He is a graduate of Brunel University’s MSc Advanced Manufacturing Systems (IMechE and IET accredited) programme.

Training needs to be given a higher priority by all stakeholders if the current shortages of engineers and skilled technicians in the UK are to be tackled. Without a commitment to offer apprenticeships and develop good training opportunities talent will not be nurtured and Britain’s reputation for world class engineering will be undermined.