Engineering skills for a stronger economy

May 3, 2016

Gateshead College is tackling the UK’s shortage of engineers head on with innovative industry training programmes to help engineering and manufacturing firms get the skilled people they need

It’s projected that by 2020 there could be significant regional shortages of high-level science, technology, engineering and manufacturing (STEM) skills in English regions, especially in the North East – home to key industries such as automotive, chemicals and oil and gas.

Having a workforce with the right skills for these types of jobs is fundamental to the growth of regional economies, with Andrew Hodgson, vice chair of the North East LEP Board and CEO at SMD commenting: “The biggest single constraint on the growth of business is the shortage of high-quality engineers. With the North East regional strategy being manufacturing led, addressing this problem will not only ensure a rebalanced economy but also significantly reduce regional inequality.”

Working closely with businesses, Gateshead College is determined to create the best training environment, while also reshaping its engineering offer to provide employers with the most flexible packages tailored for them.

Firms in the advanced manufacturing industry have helped to shape changes to the college’s STEM training and workforce development programmes. Car component manufacturer TRW, aerial work platforms manufacturer Snorkel and Lear Corporation, a global leader in automotive seating and electrical systems, all played a key role in the design of the new courses, which focus more on practical learning time and have clear progression routes from pre-apprentice to higher-level skills.

Zac Aldridge, assistant principal for STEM at Gateshead College, explains: “Traditional engineering training packages are weighted heavily on classroom training but employers are telling us they need more time spent on the development of practical skills. And while the more academic route is valuable and we’ll continue to offer it, we’ve responded to industry needs by going back to basics to deliver professional and technical training that helps our business partners remain strong and competitive.”

Engineering skills are taught at the Skills Academy for Automotive, Engineering, Manufacturing and Logistics, based at Team Valley in Gateshead. The £5.5 million purpose-built facility has seen a recent investment of more than £200,000 in state-of-the-art lathes, milling machines and supporting tools; a further £100,000 has been earmarked for more tooling equipment in the summer.

Zac adds: “Now that we’re offering a brand new programme of training, it’s vital that we have the teaching facilities to match. Investing in the latest technology and extra machines and tools means students get more out of their time in the workshops, and one-to-one training sessions allow apprentices to spend more time doing and less time observing.”

This flexible approach has benefited companies such as Team Valley-based CPS Drivelink. The supplier and manufacturer of commercial motor vehicle and motorsport drivelines, steering and breaking products turned to Gateshead College when they needed a specialist one-off welding skills course.

Paul Sowerby, engineering director at CPS Drivelink Ltd, comments: “Gateshead College was highly reactive to our request for a bespoke training course that would train and up-skill a few of our employees in welding skills. It was as simple as telling them what was needed and they came back to us with a solution that meant we were able to get our staff trained up quickly without having an impact on daily operations. We’ve now significantly developed our business, increased sales and met customers’ requirements through this professional training.”