19/11/2014 09:55 GMT | Updated 18/01/2015 05:59 GMT

Industrial Cadets Accredited Work Experience Gives Hope of Closing Industry Skills Gap

The skills gap in UK science and engineering industries is now an accepted fact of life with companies reporting difficulties in current recruitment of skilled staff. However, an initiative called Industrial Cadets, supported by government and led by major manufacturers, offers the opportunity of engaging future recruits while still at school, thereby developing the future talent pipeline.

The recent CBI Report, Engineering our Future, quoted a CBI/Pearson survey showing that last year 42% of firms faced difficulties recruiting individuals with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills and knowledge. The same CBI report quoted a number of studies which similarly anticipate intensification of skills shortages in coming years.

It is also widely accepted that to make an impact on the pipeline of people with STEM skills, interest in STEM careers needs to be stimulated early in secondary school life. There is no shortage of initiatives to highlight the benefits of STEM careers to students, many with eye catching events and innovative approaches but it seems that penetration of STEM initiatives into schools to increase the pipeline of STEM talent is not as great as it needs to be. As the CBI report acknowledges, a key driver of this penetration is engagement of businesses to promote STEM study and I would add that implicit behind this is also the need to promote STEM careers as attractive and rewarding. Our best hope of building the pipeline of STEM skills lies in the engagement of industry with schools and students. This is particularly true of female participation in STEM careers where, despite much attention to the subject in recent years, real progress has been slow.

It seems to me that there is a co-incidence of needs here as from the other side schools are also being encouraged as never before to establish work experience activities for pupils of a much higher standard than in the past. Reports in 2013 from Ofsted and the National Careers Council on careers guidance emphasised the importance of experience of the world of work and an awareness of the range of career options available. This emphasis was echoed in the government's response. Similarly in Scotland, the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce has recognised the importance of careers advice and world of work knowledge in the early secondary school years.

The announcement by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills of funding for 'Industrial Cadets' under the Employer Ownership of Skills programme provides the opportunity to make the link between the needs of industry for skilled recruits and the needs of schools to access high quality work experience for their pupils.

Industrial Cadets is industry-led and is co-ordinated nationally by my organisation, education charity EDT. As an industry standard accreditation for workplace experiences Industrial Cadets represents a major opportunity for improvement in the quality of careers advice available to young people through education/industry links. To become an Industrial Cadet 11 - 19 year olds take part in industry-based activities which comply with a structured framework which ensures the activities develop the young peoples' personal skills and raise awareness of career opportunities. The framework allows young people to take part in Industrial Cadets accredited programmes at Gold, Silver and Bronze levels. The initial focus of Industrial Cadets has been in the engineering and manufacturing industries but the framework is applicable across a full range of sectors.

As well as providing accreditation for employers' outreach activities Industrial Cadets also provides them with the opportunity for ongoing dialogue with the students through an online portal called the Industrial Cadets Post Graduation Network. This enables employers to reinforce the key careers messages they have communicated on an Industrial Cadets programme through articles and through advertisements for opportunities such as courses, jobs or other relevant prospects which are available to all the Industrial Cadets in the network. Keeping the dialogue going between Cadets and employers reinforces efforts to build a future talent pipeline and helps Cadets stay in-touch with possible future employers.

As an industry-led initiative Industrial Cadets provides a simple structure for companies to utilise in providing work experience that will make a contribution to their future talent pipeline. Government support for Industrial Cadets means that employers have an opportunity to make the link between education and business needs that has been sadly missing in the past.