Britain’s long-held reputation for excellence in manufacturing may be under threat if more young people don’t want - or are unable - to pursue a career in engineering.
It’s a view that many in the profession have been expressing forcefully for years. But now a new voice has joined in the clamour. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, recently expressed similar concerns when visiting Jaguar Land Rover’s Halewood plant on Merseyside.
“From car production to quality shoe making, from precision engineering to traditional craft skills, Britain is truly a global leader,” said the Prince, but then went on to stress that this would only continue to be the case by making sure that the engineering sector had the access to the talent pool of young people that it needs.
The Prince was speaking as President of his charity Business in the Community, an organisation whose flagship project is Business Class, a programme that aims to connect the expertise of the business world with schools, particularly those in deprived areas.
Through Business Class, pupils have access to people from the business community who are able to act as role models and mentors, as well as give them advice and support about their careers and skills from the perspective of a potential future employer.
Schools themselves can also benefit from the scheme, as head teachers can call upon the management and leadership expertise of companies to help them develop and run their schools more effectively.
Nearly 150 major companies are already involved in the scheme, among them BP, Jaguar Land Rover, Prudential, UBS and Goldman Sachs.
The Business Class programme is based on evidence that involving employers with schools helps stop young people becoming NEETS (Not in School, Education, Employment or Training).
And the evidence suggests that Business Class is really starting to work, with research among schools showing that they believe the programme has not only improved students’ academic achievement by nearly 40%, but also their employability, and by even an even greater margin.
In a boost to the scheme, the Prince was also able to announce a £2.4 million injection of funding that will enable Business Class to expand into 135 areas throughout the UK, with a view to creating over 500 partnerships between companies and schools by 2015. That should have a positive impact on at least 75,000 young people who would not otherwise have had such targeted support.
Given that 20% of 16 to 24-year-olds aren’t in education or training and don't yet have a job, youth unemployment is becoming a crisis that could blight a generation, meaning that programmes such as Business Class are increasingly important in providing not only skills, but also opportunity.
If the programme manages to achieve its goals, it will be a big step towards ensuring that the UK’s reputation as an engineering giant won’t be confined to a ‘golden era’ in our past, but will continue to drive Britain forward as an economic and engineering powerhouse.
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