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The skills issue: Are teachers doing enough?

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting some extremely bright 16-17 year olds at the UKESF summer school, held at the University of Southampton.

The message was clear: perceptions about engineering and electronics are changing.

Gone are the days it was seen as a 'geeky' and difficult career choice. Companies like Apple, Google and, dare I say it, Facebook are changing all that. Technology is cool again.

During my visit, I met several young people that told me they wanted to be the next Steve Jobs, and one girl who said she had aspirations to be the next Bill Gates, with plans to own her own software company by the time she was 25.

There's just one thing stopping them: their teachers.

Nearly all of the young people I spoke to said they were unhappy with the teaching they received at their sixth form or college. And the majority said that what they were taught was dull, outdated and irrelevant.

The comments echo the findings of a recent NEF report mentioned in last week's e-zine, which says outdated skills are still taught in the classroom and new technology is often ignored.

For years, when talking about skills, the emphasis has always been on getting more young people to consider a career in engineering. Now it seems it's time to shift that focus and place it on the (seemingly substandard) teaching given in our schools.

If we can't challenge and stimulate the younger generation enough now when their passion and enthusiasm is at an all time high, what hope have we as an industry got for the future?

Laura Hopperton

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I recently attended a business conference where the subject of youth unemployment came up. The Vice Chancellor of a local university made the following comment: “Go to school, then to university, then to teacher training and then go to school to teach.”
Are you surprised that young people are not given good career advice by teachers? Where do they gain enough knowledge of working life to give students practicable advice?
I have had a varied career as a design engineer, working for three spells under the Official Secrets Act. Following this, I took a ‘career swerve’ into the plastics industry. Following my retirement in 1999, I have worked as a consultant ensuring that the correct materials are used for applications.
I use this information during discussions in schools about my career and to suggest (but not dictate) that there are interesting careers in engineering and industry in general, but that not everybody gets the most out of a university education; this could be achieved on a sandwich course sponsored by an employer.
These discussions are normally well received and teachers often sit in and probably learn as much as the students.
Now, my local authority is trying to get together ambassadors to do this across all the schools in the district.

Posted by: John Blundell, 28/07/2014

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