ESCO Trailblazer team outside Number 10
A significant achievement of the coalition Government has been the increasing uptake of apprenticeships driven by the success of the Trailblazer program. However, up until very recently, apprenticeships and university placements have followed different pathways and, within an industry highly dependent on high-level skills, the Electronic Systems community has had limited engagement.
ESCO (The Electronic Systems Council) has been actively campaigning for the extension of Trailblazers to higher levels of academic attainment. In late 2014, the Government announced the extension of the Trailblazer program to extend to Level 6 (Bachelor’s Degree) and Level 7 (Master’s) therefore enabling much broader appeal for companies focused on these higher levels of recruitment.
Following this announcement, GAMBICA and NMI have been working together under the ESCO banner to develop a Graduate Apprenticeship model. Leading employers have been contributing and the ESCO Council convened a gathering of industrial, academic and public sector representatives who met on 23rd January in 10 Downing St to discuss taking the program forward.
Warren East, ESCO Industry Co-Chair, advised that the “Skills agenda” is the number one priority of the Electronic Systems sector; “The future of our industry is about generating new technology and systems that are more efficient, faster and more reliable than those of our competitors. Our technologies underpin every part of the economy – digital, transport, healthcare, aerospace, robotics and driverless cars. If the UK is to really reap the rewards of innovations in new markets, we will only do so by having the highest-quality skills available to our employers. This is a global industry and our competitors are not holding back on investment in skills. This meeting today, and the subsequent Trailblazer application, is central to our growth strategy for UK Electronic Systems.”
Government Co-Chair Baroness Neville-Rolfe outlined a bold ambition to get an application approved and in-place this summer with a target intake of 150 graduate apprentices this September; at least 10% of which should come from SMEs. Judging by the commitment around the table in No. 10, the ESCO team feels this could very well be an achievable ambition.
However, there are some important milestones, the first of which is getting consultation on the proposed Apprenticeships Standards and industry commitment behind these. The next deadline is 12th Feb and we need your input.
What exactly is being proposed?
The long-term goal of ESCO is to develop a seamless skills provision and pipeline covering all skills levels and engaging a significant proportion of industry. However, based on our perception of employer demand, we have decided to initially focus on expanding an existing Level 2 Electronics Production Technical Operator Apprenticeship, which can be viewed here developed by Electronics Yorkshire and developing a new Level 6 Graduate Embedded Systems Design Engineering Apprenticeship, which can be viewed here covering both hardware and software-centric skills being developed by employers engaged with GAMBICA and NMI.
Trailblazers are significantly supported by government funding with £2 of public funding for every £1 of industry funding towards training. There is a public funding cap of £18,000 for the training and education element, with additional substantial incentives for small companies; employing young apprentices; and a completion bonus.
In this process, the definition of the standard and subsequent Learning Contract and Assessment Framework is placed squarely in the hands of industry. The starting point is a two-page standard and a group of lead employers have developed draft standards for wider consultation.
This program has the potential to revolutionise skills provision for the industry. The UK is well-recognised for academic excellence and also for business innovation. However, the UK suffers from a recognised gap between discovery and commercial exploitation; the opportunity for academia and industry to work more closely together is clear. A graduate and Master’s Apprenticeship model provides a basis for increasing the pace of translation between the research undertaken in our universities and the commercial exploitation in our industry.
We also recognise that our industry needs to be more attractive to young people. Building a new career pathway that combines an opportunity to develop academic excellence whilst developing real-world skills in industry and being paid along the way will be a significant attractor for young people.
Dr Graeme Philp, GAMBICA Chief Executive commented “As a former Graduate Apprentice, I personally realise the value of combining academic study with industrial application. Within ESCO we have been working hard to enable this and we now need to see it to fruition. Yes, there are difficulties, but we can start here and move-on to extend the apprenticeship provision to more levels and other disciplines. The key now is industry engagement in the consultation process.”
Dr Derek Boyd, NMI Chief Executive commented “ESCO has provided the platform to influence policy and for our diverse industry to work together. If you are one of the employers who are passionate about future skills, I now call on you to grasp the unique opportunity we have before us; we won’t get it off the ground without you.”
Several employers in the Electronic Systems sector already have existing apprenticeship models and have been sharing existing programs and best-practice. Renishaw, GE-Aviation and BAE Systems have worked with the Trade Associations to develop a standard that we believe should be specific enough to assess against whilst leaving sufficient scope for the broad range of employers and applications that need to be included.
Reflecting the range of employers engaging in the process, Peter York, Head of Engineering Skills and Workload UK, commented “In Finmeccanica – Selex ES we face significant skills challenges around the development of world class electronic systems. We are particularly keen to see this initiative succeed as there is a pressing need to develop a pipeline of people equipped with the skills we need to create the next generation systems.”
Raeeka Yassaie, University and HR Programme Manager at Imagination Technologies commented “As a world-leading creator of semiconductor Intellectual Property, with technology shipping into billions of devices each year, Imagination is an example of the success of the UK technology industry on the world stage. Our graduate recruitment is a fundamental part of our long term growth and we believe that an industry driven graduate apprenticeship programme in engineering will be a significant and important step in addressing the serious UK skills shortage in this sector.”
However, it’s critical that these apprenticeships are inclusive of the SME community. Andrew Robinson
Chief Executive Officer, The Automated Technology Group commented “As a fast growing SME with a long history of training apprentices, the Automated Technology Group is a strong supporter of the concept of degree level apprenticeships as envisaged under the government’s Trailblazer scheme. It is important that undergraduates gain industry-based vocational training in their breaks from university, if they are to be able to move into rewarding roles in the industry soon after graduation.”
What happens next?
We are gaining knowledge and getting through the Trailblazer application process and it’s now at the stage that we need industry to respond. The starting point is to seek engagement from as many companies as possible, firstly in the consultation process and, secondly, starting to consider how this would work for the companies concerned and the capacity of your company to employ young people in this model. In the first instance we invite you to declare an interest to one of the partner organisations taking this forward and we also invite you to comment on the draft Level 2 and Level 6 standards through the questionnaires here and here.
Comments will be reflected in a revised standard to be submitted for BIS approval by 12th Feb with an announcement of acceptance expected in mid-March during National Apprenticeship week. If you have interests in developing future graduate engineering talent we need your response by noon on the 9th Feb – don’t miss your opportunity to input.
Should you wish to get more information on the Level 2 or Level 6 Applications, you can find the relevant information on www.esco.org.uk/skills
You can also find out more information by contacting the active Trade Associations: