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University Technical Colleges: enough to fill the skills gap?

01 April 2013

More UTCs are setting out to solve the UK's shortage of engineers, but will the total of 45 working establishments by 2015 be sufficient?

For five years the Baker Dearing Educational Trust has been working to establish a national network of University Technical Colleges (UTCs) - a new route to the education and training of 14-18 year-olds, which follows through to further study and employment. Five are now open, 12 will open this year, 15 next year, and now there will be a further 13 in 2015, bringing the total number to 45 spread across the country.

By providing a high quality training programme for budding technicians and engineers, it is hoped that UTCs will feed through candidates to help fill a worrying UK skills gap. UTCs enjoy all-party support and the Coalition continues to back them. They are employer-led and university supported, and are free standing technical schools for up to 800 14 to 18 year old students, with a typical working day of 8:30am to 5pm.

Students spend the equivalent of two days a week on practical study and three days a week on academic study.  Each UTC provides at least one technical specialism, alongside the key GCSEs in English, maths and science, as well as a modern foreign language, humanities, finance, business, entrepreneurial and employability skills. They currently have the support of 400 companies and 45 universities.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is delighted that an additional 13 UTCs are due to open in 2015, believing the nationwide scheme will help to address what it calls a "huge lack" of technical education in schools.

Indeed, the IET is calling for the UTC programme to be speeded up as 1.86 million job openings, requiring engineering skills, are forecast by 2020. IET policy director Tony Whitehead bemoans the huge gap in technical education in the national curriculum. "This was made even worse by the government’s decision to exclude design and technology from the English Baccalaureate," he says. 

“UTCs offer students a technical and engineering focus alongside academic study and will be at the heart of delivering improvements in the economy and supporting the pipeline of future apprentices, technicians and engineers," Dr Whitehead continues. 

“Our most recent survey of employers showed a desire to recruit new staff, but they are struggling to find the right people with the right skills. Investments in our education system, including these new UTCs, are welcome news but with huge demand for engineering skills, the Government needs to take further actions to ensure the pipeline of future engineers and technicians is sufficient to meet the needs of the economy.”

Figures from the latest EngineeringUK report show that the UK needs to double the number of recruits into engineering to meet demand, with engineering companies projected to have 2.74 million job openings from 2010 to 2020, 1.86 million of which will call for engineering skills.

Les Hunt

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