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UTILITY Week 5th September 2014

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12 | 12th - 18th September 2014 | UtILItY WeeK Skills special report Analysis W e all know the UK is struggling to address a potentially debilitating skills gap, particularly with regard to engineering and technical capability. The word "crisis" has been used in asso- ciation with skills so many times over so many years that it has in many respects become meaningless. And while there is a consensus among employers that something needs to be done, there remain far more supporters on the sidelines than players on the pitch. However, newly clarified labour force analysis for the utilities sector should pro- vide a catalyst for more action, according to Neil Robertson, chief executive of Energy & Utility Skills. The organisation is working to ensure the utilities sector is armed with accurate skills data so that it can strategi- cally target shortfalls in appropriate skills by discipline and region. According to analysis by the organisation, utilities need about 1.9 million engineers to join the sector across disciplines by 2020. But with just 1,500 apprentices and a few hun- dred graduates with appropriate skills quali- fying every year, the pipeline for this target is parched. Work is underway to pump more students into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects and encourage them to choose Stem careers, but Robertson admits that more needs to be done. "We have pressing skills gaps," he says, "and the current plan for addressing them is woefully inadequate. "We've launched the Energy and Effi- ciency Industrial Partnership, which repre- sents an agreement to up our game, and if we deliver what we plan to through this, then we will make a significant dent in the sec- tor's skills gap. But even then, it will not be enough." Robertson says this raises two major tacti- cal challenges for utility companies. First, they must find ways to get more out of the national education and train- ing system. Second, there must be rational consideration of the use of foreign work- ers to meet immediate and specific skills requirements. His first point ties in neatly with the increasing presence of university technical colleges (UTCs) – schools that deliver the national curriculum, but in a contextualised format and with constant interaction with employer partners across the UK. Such developments in the UK's education landscape are making it easier for employers to engage with schools and to influence cur- riculum delivery in order to make that holy grail of the work-ready, practically compe- tent recruit a commonplace reality. The brainchild of former education sec- retary Lord Baker, UTCs have gained favour under the current government as a means of aligning education with the vital skills needs of important growth sectors. The first UTC, the JCB Academy, opened in 2010 and is now a top-performing institu- tion, achieving 84 per cent A*-C grades at A level this year. At GCSE, 100 per cent of stu- dents gained A*-C grades in their engineer- ing qualification – the technical discipline to which the academy is devoted to promoting. This month, 13 UTCs opened across England, including the Energy Coast UTC in Cumbria, which has a particular bias towards collaboration with utilities. Utility Week travelled up to the North West to attend the college's employer open day, which took place on the second day of term. It was an opportunity for employer partners to make themselves known to students, explain the kinds of capabilities and personalities they are looking for and to communicate their growth strategies along with the associated job prospects. Unlike most employer visits to schools, this day was not a one-off. All these partners have committed to investing time in help- ing teachers to contextualise the national curriculum and provide live projects for the students' practical assignments, which lead to BTEC qualifications and carry the same weight as GCSE and A level courses. Some have also donated equipment or offered work experience placements. Nurturing ambition It's all about aligning the aspiration of young people with the reality of the world of work, explains Energy Coast UTC princi- pal and chief executive Gary Jones, a former engineer. "For many years there has been a mis- match between the aspiration of young peo- ple and the reality of the jobs market," he says. "We're not asking students to pigeon- hole themselves – we teach the national cur- riculum and aim to develop well-rounded young people – but at 14 you know enough about yourself and your talents to have aspi- rations and you should be able to align those with real career routes. "Unfortunately there seems to be a pre- vailing trend to tie aspirations to TV shows like the X-Factor and winning the lottery." Closing the gap University technical colleges are working closely with employers to train pupils in engineering and technology, but will this be enough to tackle the sector's skills shortage? Jane Gray reports. Which utilities are supporting utcs? Utility company UTC(s) supported Discipline Open Eon-UK Aston University Engineering Academy Engineering 2012 National Grid Aston University Engineering Academy Engineering 2012 Medway University Technical College Construction and engineering 2015 Visions Learning Trust Construction and engineering 2013 WMG Academy for Young Engineers Engineering and digital technologies 2014 Anglian Water Greater Peterborough UTC Environmentally sustainable engineering and built environment 2015 South West Water South Devon UTC Engineering, water and the environment 2015 Thames Water London Design and Engineering UTC Design and engineering 2015 * Information provided by Energy & Utility Skills. Other Energy and Utility Skills members involved in UTC support include Veolia Environmental Services and Siemens, which supports six UTCs.

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