Over the past decade Edge has championed the importance and benefits of high quality technical, practical and vocational education and training, seeking a closer alignment between education and the skill needs of the UK economy.

Edge encourages innovation in education by supporting the creation of new institutions that promote profound employer engagement and address areas of skills shortages for the UK economy. In addition Edge champions projects that will support the effective dissemination of best practice in vocational education and training and have the ability to support further development or replication. All the projects in the series have the potential to become beacons of excellence and exemplars of what can be achieved.

Name of project: Careers Academy for Railway Engineering and Aviation

Name of FE College: PROCAT (Prospects College of Advanced Technology)

Project lead name and email address: Helen Russell This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Karen Tinnams This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Location: Basildon, Essex

Sector: Prospects College of Advanced Technology is an FE College with about 2000 students, 800 of which are in engineering and construction apprenticeships.

What are you doing? I am Karen Tinnams, STEM careers advisor. I have been employed as part of this Edge project with the aim of creating a unique and innovative careers partnership between employers, schools and young people. The project focuses on providing:

  • Inspiring careers advice about STEM
  • Links between businesses and schools
  • An enhanced curriculum through projects and work place visits

This will allow more young people to develop high quality STEM skills so that they can enter related employment sectors. Also it will enhance the image of apprenticeships and jobs in rail and aviation engineering therefore broadening the range of applicants this sector.

Why is it different/innovative? The project endeavours to get employers involved in education so that young people can get real industry experience. As mine is a dedicated role, I have the time to maintain a strong relationship between employers and schools which can otherwise be a struggle due to time constraints. I can put in place a programme of opportunities to continually enrich young people's knowledge of rail and aviation engineering.

Qualifications & skills learners acquire: A range of events are involved in the scheme. Sometimes students with a passion for design and technology, maths and science are selected exclusively. For example, the Young Engineers Club we have been running on Saturday mornings is populated by students nominated by their school for their enthusiasm for STEM. In my opinion the strongest work comes from events involving entire year groups and opening students' eyes to the range of careers in engineering. This was the aim of our event for National Women in Engineering; none of the girls had done anything like the engineering tasks we offered them yet they gave it their best and learnt new skills. Feedback showed that a third went away with significantly higher interest in STEM.

Who are your main partners & stakeholders?
This project would be impossible without the support of our key stakeholders: Everyone at the college particularly tutors who are passionate about their engineering specialism and willing to give some of their time to educate young people. The GTA engineering committee where employers with apprentices at the college help govern the college and offer to enrich the curriculum. Essex County Council who already have a STEM into schools programme which I am working in partnership with.

What are your ambitions for development?
In the last three months I have worked with over 300 students at 25 events. Now it is time to reach out to different schools who PROCAT do not traditionally work with. For example, primary schools - with the aim of getting students seeing the value of STEM subjects from a young age, and single sex grammar schools who habitually encourage students along the university route.

Please tell us about any plans you have for dissemination of the model and how you are sharing best practise:
I plan to write up the experiences I have this year in two different formats - a formal document for use inside the college to show what has been achieved and an informal digital format that can be shared with IAG professionals.

Employer engagement- how does this tie in to local labour market?
The biggest labour markets in Basildon are finance and engineering. This scheme is aimed at promoting engineering and requires the support of local employers to succeed. In the next five years 6,700 new technical engineers are required in Essex. Nationally 4,000 new rail engineering jobs and 7,000 aviation jobs are being created. Employers recognise this and are supporting this project to increase the number and quality of applicants seeking employment.

What are the further learning and career path opportunities?
There has never been a better time to be an engineer in the rail industry because of the massive investment to rebuild and modernise the industry. Projects include High Speed 2, new substations to powers trains, Crossrail 2, new digital train radio systems, the next generation of suburban passenger trains. Apprenticeships in rail engineering opens pathways to PhD/level 6 study and joining a professional body like Institute of Mechanical Engineers could allow people to become chartered engineers.

There are many diverse aeronautical engineering jobs available in many industries, including aeronautics, aerospace and defence. From research and design to management, sales and even teaching, there are no shortage of job opportunities in this field. Apprenticeships in aircraft maintenance open pathways to internationally recognised qualifications that can be used to work in many countries around the world which enjoy above average rates of pay.

What have been the greatest challenges of the project?
The greatest challenge is changing society's opinion of apprenticeships. Raising attitudes towards apprenticeships is not an overnight job and will require much perseverance and tenacity. But as long we provide a positive experience for young people they will pass this positivity to others.

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