Boost in Apprenticeships and UTCs a Step in the Right Direction

18/06/2012 15:55 BST | Updated 15/08/2012 10:12 BST

The UK has seen welcome growth and investment in apprenticeships with over 450,000 new people signed up in 2010-11, up 63.5% from the previous year.

With the demand for apprenticeships increasing from employers, there needs to be a steady flow of candidates. This is where schools need to change their attitudes, and ensure that apprenticeships are mentioned as a viable alternative to university.

September 2012 will see major tuition fee rises applied by universities, which it is likely will lead to many potential undergraduates, and future engineers, considering alternatives to a degree.

We recently held an event at the IET event which brought together representatives from the world of academia, training and business heard from apprentices who revealed that university was encouraged as the best option for a student's future by their schools. If they were not going to university they were given little or no help regarding their future options.

Apprenticeships equip young people with the key practical and technical skills that are valued by employers. Given the tough economic situation being faced by the engineering and technology sectors, apprenticeships really are a viable alternative to a traditional academic pathway.

At the IET we are committed to helping young engineers and technicians develop their careers and work towards professional registration, whether they are doing degrees or apprenticeships.

Rebalancing the UK's economy will require qualified, skilled engineers and technicians at all levels. Properly accredited and approved apprenticeships provide a high-quality alternative to traditional academic routes for our future workforce.

It is widely recognised that the public have a very poor perception of engineering and in particular industry. There are many things that government, colleges, employers and the profession can do to help change this. One is to ensure that engineering isn't seen as a dead end, that starting an apprenticeship is seen as the first step into an exciting world with a myriad of opportunities, with clear progression routes from apprentice through to Chartered Engineer.

Whilst it is concerning that, according to recent reports, some apprenticeship providers have chosen to manipulate the funding situation for their own means, this must not detract from the value of apprenticeships to young people and the wider economy.

The Government must not play a "numbers game" but to seek to produce the fully qualified technicians that the UK so desperately needs for the future.

Meanwhile, the announcement that 15 new University Technical Colleges (UTCs) will be created to train 20,000 young people as the engineers of the future is welcome news and a step in the right direction.

The new UTCs will have involvement from around 200 high-profile employers - including household names like Jaguar Land Rover, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. They will also have significant input from world-class universities, such as Cambridge and Warwick.

At the IET we have taken a key role in leading the engineering profession's support for UTCs and the initiative was launched at the IET in February 2010.

UTCs will create opportunities for more than 20,000 young people to train as the engineers and scientists of the future - playing a crucial role in the UK's long-term economic growth. They will offer hands-on technical learning alongside academic GCSEs and A levels.

The combination of a strong technical and academic education ensures that students are ready for work or further study at college or university.

We hope that the expansion of UTCs will fill the hole created by the Government's decision to downgrade the value of the successful Engineering Diploma. UTCs will be at the heart of achieving improvements to the economy and supporting a pipeline of future apprentices, technicians and engineers. However, this expansion must be speeded up to ensure the pipeline doesn't dry up.