In January The Prince of Wales, during a visit to Jaguar Land Rover in Halewood, added his voice to those saying that the UK should celebrate its high quality engineering sector and, in particular, that industry needs to make the sector more attractive to young people at school by inspiring them into engineering and technology careers. This viewpoint has been supported by the Social Market Foundation in a recent report reporting that there is annual shortfall of 40,000 science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) graduates from the numbers required to keep science and engineering related industries at their present size. The government's recent efforts in promoting apprenticeships for school leavers recognise that the problem also exists across a wide range of job types in industry.
It has long been recognised that industry has a vital role to play in attracting and preparing its own future workforce. Young people respond in large part to their own experiences and to role models that they come across in deciding their future career paths. Schools can provide them with knowledge and advice but companies need to engage with schools if students are to make the real world connections and experiences which will open their eyes to the opportunities in local industry. This will need an investment of time and often of money, but this all needs to be seen in the context of recruitment of the future workforce, an issue in which all companies recognise that they need to invest to succeed.
The thing to note about The Prince of Wales's contribution to the issue is that he has inspired and launched an initiative which enables companies to make a major impact in creating recognition, understanding and even pride among young people for their local industrial excellence. The initiative is called Industrial Cadets and was piloted by Tata Steel in the North East of England following discussions that The Prince of Wales had with the company's senior management during a site visit in 2010. The success of the pilot and the ensuing demand for places has led to the rollout of Industrial Cadets on a national basis coordinated by EDT , with seed funding support provided from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The premise of Industrial Cadets is very simple. Work in commercial industry is largely invisible to young people and their families, even when that industry is in their local area. The young people, therefore, often do not make a mental link between their future careers and what can be very successful engineering and technology companies in their locality. As a result students who are well suited to such careers will study subjects that cut them off from the excellent opportunities in engineering and technology on their doorstep. The double tragedy is that all projections show that these same engineering and technology industries face a widening skills recruitment gap over coming years which could threaten the UK's excellent reputation in these sectors.
Industrial Cadets provides a flexible means by which industrial companies can engage with schools in their local area by providing hands-on project and site visit experiences which give students a taste of local industry. A framework structure allows different companies to tailor their engagement to their own company needs and those of the local schools and yet deliver a consistent and high quality set of experiences which address both careers awareness and provide some development of employability skills.
In recent years there has been too much of a "disconnect" between industry and education. Major companies have often done their own thing in different ways to make the links, but the huge numbers of medium sized and small companies have typically not identified any way in which they can viably and sustainably engage with their local schools. The advent of Industrial Cadets as a national initiative will provide such an opportunity for companies to pick a mechanism "off the shelf" and to participate in networks that enable them to engage with the individuals who might be their future employees. Companies will be participating with an initiative that is increasingly well understood as an idea which helps both students and industry and therefore they will be providing a link in a process which it is hoped will go a long way to addressing the concerns that The Prince of Wales, along with many industry leaders, has expressed.