Engineers of the future

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Last week was National Apprenticeship Week and I attended an awards event to celebrate the achievements of over 400 apprentices who have joined the Crossrail programme.  We had set ourselves a target of recruiting 400 apprentices, and with just under four years to go we are determined to exceed that target by a significant margin.

Our achievement is just one example of how industry is starting to address the damage done by the myth that the nation’s skills needs could be met by sending more young people to university.  We are demonstrating that young people can secure good, well-paid jobs through the apprentice route, which also provides the foundation for a successful and rewarding career.

The UK will need 450,000 new skilled technicians by 2020, Crossrail has been supporting the EngTechNow campaign, which aims to register 100,000 technicians with the professional engineering institutions by 2020.

Qualification and registration as an engineering technician recognises the engineering skills, experience and competence that an individual has gained.  Anyone can apply and an Advanced or Modern Apprenticeship or an equivalent work-based scheme fulfils the majority of the competence requirements for an engineering technician, as do Level 3 vocational qualifications, including BTEC Diplomas and NVQs, together with relevant work experience.

Why is this important and what has it got to do with quality?

We need new talent

Poor quality in construction costs the industry hundreds of millions of pounds every year.  So the industry needs highly skilled technicians to fulfil their contractual obligations and deliver the high quality which clients demand and companies and technicians themselves can be proud of.  This will win companies more work and individuals better jobs.

At Crossrail we are working with the Chartered Quality Institute to improve quality in construction but we’ll make no real progress without skilled technicians at the coalface. This means training towards a goal of reaching a recognised standard of professional competence.

We must act now

In Crossrail we have the benefit of looking across a very wide supply chain of major companies and SMEs in the rail and construction industries.  People are worried about whether they will be able to resource projects with the calibre of engineering technicians they will need.

It is an unfortunate fact that the normal way of dealing with the skills gap is to hope that the skills will be out there somewhere when they are needed.

This approach will no longer do.  Companies will have to invest in training their engineering teams – and this means apprenticeship programmes and early professional recognition as engineering technicians.

We need to offer a career

We all have a challenge of attracting young people into engineering.

If we are going to succeed in that challenge, we need to offer those young people a career path.  There are people who have progressed from apprenticeships to very senior roles in industry.  But let’s face it they are exceptional and I don’t think the ‘system’ helped them.

This cannot be sustainable.  In EngTechNow we have the opportunity to create the one major professional milestone which is currently missing – the first one.

So at the end of National Apprenticeship Week let’s all get behind apprenticeships, make sure we have the skills we need for the future and recognise them with professional qualifications.

Chris Sexton is the Technical Director at Crossrail and the President of the Chartered Quality Institute.

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