Industry Interview: Foundation Apprenticeships, bridging the skills gap in industry

Throughout 2015 employers have continued to highlight their concern over skills gaps within the engineering and manufacturing sectors. To create opportunities for the next generation of engineers to develop their knowledge, skills and gain recognised qualifications and a genuine understanding of the industry, a new engineering foundation apprenticeship started its two year pilot in 2014.

Helen Young, Depute Head of Engineering at West Lothian College, one of two Scottish colleges involved in the trial, caught up with us to let us know how the pilot is progressing after its first full year, share feedback from those on the course and learn how industry can get involved in developing talent for the future.

Hi Helen, thanks for talking to us about foundation apprenticeship and the work of West Lothian College’s engineering department.

Tell us, how did this new apprenticeship come about and focus on engineering?
The Engineering Foundation Apprenticeship is truly ground-breaking and really does lead the way for education and industry to work together. It was created primarily to help develop the young workforce and address the skills gap within engineering and manufacturing in Scotland. In particular the course is designed to create more apprenticeships within industry, help students become work ready at a younger age and reduce youth unemployment. We worked with the Scottish Funding Council to set up the model for this programme and now continue to work with Skills Development Scotland as they roll out Foundation Apprenticeships across the country as part of their long term commitment to increasing the availability of such courses in Scotland.

What is covered in the apprenticeship and what does this mean for those undertaking the course?
The apprenticeship at West Lothian College offers 4th and 5th year high school students the opportunity to attend college on a part-time basis and work towards gaining an industry recognised qualification. The course, led by our lecturer Allan Marshall, an industry expert with decades of experience as a precision toolmaker, combines a mix of practical and theoretical study, covering topics such as AutoCAD, milling, turning, workbench skills, engineering projects, dimensional control, engineering communications, IT and mathematics. Additionally we work closely with industry, creating opportunities for students to visit local engineering and manufacturing organisations including Johnson & Johnson, Shin Etsu, First Bus and Jabil. It’s hugely beneficial for students to gain an insight into the variety of companies, environments and roles within the industry before they enter the job market themselves.

What’s been happening since the launch of the pilot in 2014?
Our initial group of 20 students have completed their first year and when they finish the course in 2016 they will have gained a National Certificate (NC) Level 5 in Manufacturing and completed their SVQ 2, Performing Engineering Operations. In addition to the classes and visits mentioned, students have also had the opportunity to attend specialists workshops hosted by STEM industry ambassadors and have visited examples of engineering achievement such as the Falkirk Wheel.

As they progress through their second year they will also complete work placements with local employers, gaining real, hands-on experience within a working environment.

This year we have seen a second cohort of students sign up to the Manufacturing Engineering course and have launched a new Foundation Apprenticeship in Civil Engineering. We also have plans in place for additional apprenticeships to be launched next year including a focus on Food and Drink Technology.

And what’s the feedback from the pupils taking part in the pilot?
The feedback from the students has been incredibly positive, they absolutely recognise that this type of experience will help ensure they are employable and some have already begun the process of applying for apprenticeships advertised by local employers who are supporters of the programme.

The students love coming to college and many now have aspirations to get apprenticeships themselves, continue on to higher education or pursue careers within the armed services. The students have demonstrated real commitment to the course which requires them to attend college for 2 half days a week, plus additional time during their school holidays.

What do you believe will be the benefits to industry and employers who have concerns about the current skills gap?
Local employers are already seeing the benefits of these programmes with two organisations inviting our students to apply to their own in-house apprenticeships. With students gaining qualifications specifically designed to meet industry needs, coupled with hands-on experience and a practical understanding of core skills, employers will have a new generation of candidates who are work-ready and motivated to pursue a career within engineering.

How can employers in Scotland’s engineering sector get involved in the programme?
As we expand the numbers of students on these courses we will continue to engage with employers who would like to get involved. There are opportunities for organisations to act as STEM ambassadors or mentors, provide visits and tours or offer work placements to our students.

If employers within the West Lothian and surrounding area would like to find out more, they can contact me at hyoung@west-lothian.ac.uk. For those employers further afield they can get in touch with their local colleges directly or speak with Skills Development Scotland to find out more.

How can pupils interested in joining for the apprenticeship find out more?
We are currently working with a number of local schools but would be delighted to hear from other schools and students interested in future intakes. You can contact me at hyoung@west-lothian.ac.uk.

Thanks to Helen Young from West Lothian College for talking with us and we wish the students on the Foundation Apprenticeship all the best with their upcoming work experience placements and the completion of their course.

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