The new Diploma


Sir Alan Jones

Sir Alan Jones

In September 2008 a new Diploma in Engineering is being launched. It is designed to give 14-19 year olds a foundation in engineering principles. Sir Alan Jones, of Sector Skills Council Semta and Toyota writes about how the Diploma’s content was developed and argues that it will better prepare young people for work, apprenticeships and on-going further study.

We must improve education and skills in order to improve productivity, innovation and motivation and make businesses grow by dealing with the challenges of globalisation, technology and the breakneck pace of market demands. I say we must improve because we have a mutual interest and shared responsibility. It takes the whole village to bring up one child, as they say in Africa.

The importance of UK engineering and manufacturing cannot be over-stated. There are 2.9 million people employed in its sectors and it is responsible for 55% of UK exports. However, unless we take action, we’ll find that China and India will outstrip the UK, taking half the world’s growth and potentially some of our share of trade.

Research from Semta (the Sector Skills Council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies) found that over one in ten engineering organisations have struggled to fill vacancies in the last 12 months. Reasons for recruitment difficulties include a ‘lack of applicants with work experience’ and a ‘general lack of applicants’. This suggests that there is a lack of interest in working in engineering.

This all points to the need to not only increase the skillset of our current workforce, but also to attract young people into our industry who have the right knowledge, skills and aptitude to meet our business needs. This is where the new Diploma in Engineering comes in.

The Diploma will offer business a huge opportunity to attract young people with the right basic education into engineering and manufacturing. It will meet employers’ needs because it is based on a new partnership approach, with each party contributing from its strength.

The Engineering Diploma Development Partnership, involving employers, educationalists and trade bodies, has ensured its design best suits the needs of the engineering sector. The Diploma will give young people the valuable transferable skills sought after by employers through principal learning, functional skills, and additional or specialist learning.

It will also improve young people’s approach to work by including the thinking and personal skills such as problem solving, team-working, self-management and enterprise. They can learn enough about business to make the right career choices and have a career headstart.

The Diploma in Engineering will inspire young people to learn and apply their skills, having had the best input from educational experts. Students will study in varied settings, including the classroom, workplace and workshops and will be able to keep their career options open as they progress.

The learning will be challenging and high-quality. The Diploma student will develop subject knowledge, demonstrate competence in English, Maths and ICT and acquire analytical, research and practical skills. The result will be Diploma graduates who are self-motivated and have the strong intellectual and personal skills required by employers or Higher Education.

Indeed Leeds, Newcastle, Southampton, Sheffield, Warwick, Nottingham and Liverpool universities have already said they will accept the Diploma in Engineering. Geoff Parks, admissions head for Cambridge University, said the maths component of the Engineering Diplomas was, “significantly better for engineering at university than maths A-levels”.

In terms of qualifications, the Government has ensured Diplomas offer the flexibility to migrate to GCSEs or A-Levels and to progress into training with an employer, an apprenticeship or further study including university.

As an engineer, I am confident that the Diploma in Engineering will meet our needs. Young people will gain awareness of the engineering sector, as well as knowledge, skills and understanding of engineering. They’ll examine the importance of engineering, and be introduced to basic engineering principles.

They can also go into more depth by taking a specialist course. Alternatively, they can take a language or science qualification. So Diplomas offer the flexibility and choice to engage young people.

Students will also do an extended project, where they’ll be able to explore a topic of interest in greater depth. There will be structured work experience which will last a minimum of 10 days. During this time, pupils will get the chance to be taught and mentored by professionals working in engineering and so bring their learning to life. This will help them understand the wide range of opportunities and careers offered in engineering.

There are benefits for companies in supporting Diplomas. As well as ensuring the next generation have the attitudes and skills needed by engineering, companies have the opportunity to demonstrate corporate social responsibility, overcome skills gaps caused by an ageing workforce, or reduce turnover and reallocate training investment.

Employers should become involved in Diplomas, by supporting the consortia of schools, colleges and other organisations who will be teaching them. They can provide work experience, materials and case studies, teacher placements, job interview preparation, project sponsorship, mentoring and business visits. Finally, we in business should welcome the opportunity to hire Diploma graduates.

To ensure that employers get a clear understanding of the Diploma benefits and opportunities, I have set up a Diploma Employers Champions’ network to encourage and support further long-term employer involvement in Diplomas. We have a group of individual champions from companies like Rolls-Royceplc, BT, Vodafone, SembCorp and Cisco Systems at national level who will help me with promotion and feedback to government. There are opportunities for more employers to join the network right now.

The Leitch Report on adult skills estimated that the net potential benefit of improving work-based skills would be £80 billion. That’s just by closing the productivity gap with the rest of the EU. If we do nothing, then we will end up with what we have always had. I believe this partnership will make a real difference, so let’s join forces to make the Diplomas a success. We can change the future in one generation.

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BIOGRAPHY – Sir Alan Jones

Sir Alan Jones joined Toyota Motor Manufacturing (UK) Limited at its inception in 1990 and is currently Senior Executive Advisor to Toyota Motor Europe and Chairman Emeritus of Toyota Motor Manufacturing (UK) Limited. In 2006, he took responsibility for the Chairmanship of Semta (Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance) and is also the 14-19 Diploma Champion for Employers.

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