Friday, 29 January 2021

Would you Encourage a Career in Engineering for Your School Leaver?

A blue robotic hand, with palm facing forwardI attended an online presentation last week with my son on the career options in a manufacturing firm near us. We are surrounded by big-name manufacturers where we live and I was really taken with the idea of an apprenticeship. I'd never really thought about it before, I didn't even realise they were still a thing, but I thought it was important we got some insight into potential careers since we won't be going to any events any time soon and I really learned a lot. Things have changed since I was at school and young people are required to stay in education even longer, which is great, but I'm glad there are options available for those who may not be that academically minded and would prefer something a bit more hands-on. 

Collaboration with MillsCNC

What I found reassuring was that the apprenticeship scheme was clearly being taken seriously and the students would be well supported, paid and have a decent qualification at the end of it. I seem to remember in the old days (yes, I do feel old enough to use that expression, particularly after homeschooling for weeks) that apprenticeships could be a bit of a lottery, where it depended on how good the employer was, and some unscrupulous bosses just used the apprentices for cheap labour. This may not be entirely reliable, it was a long time ago, but I'm certainly pleased it's not the case anymore and would be happy for my son to take part in an apprenticeship if he was motivated to do so. I can't see the point in keeping anyone in school if they don't want to be there, they won't learn a thing. 

It did leave me wondering though, how I would feel about engineering as a potential career path in itself. I would never stand in the way of whatever my children wanted to do, I think it's a recipe for disaster if you try to influence those kinds of choices too strongly, but as a parent, I do worry about what the future holds. Engineering, for example, can be unpredictable as its often reliant on the firm securing contracts to make whatever it is that they sell. If you've trained hard to become proficient in something of a niche area, it's a brilliant way to put yourself at the front of the queue when a job in that field becomes available and there won't even be much competition, but it's a real problem to get another job if you get laid off. In the engineering sectors around here, it always feels a bit uncertain and there have been occasions when a contract has fallen through and jobs have been on the line. Which must be a huge worry, particularly for those employees with families. 

From above: A person sitting at a desk perusing instructions and blueprints to build something

There's a lot to be said for making something important that serves a purpose or provides a service that people need. It must be very fulfilling and I like the idea of being able to be hands-on in the manufacturing process and seeing your ideas brought to life from the ground up. From building colossal aircraft parts to tiny, fiddly components for phones, it all seems really engaging. It's been a long time since I've been inside a factory and it's interesting to think how different it all must be now. As a big fan of the Marvel films, I wonder how much technology has moved on in the manufacturing industry these days. It wasn't so long ago that people thought we would all be replaced by robots eventually, but it seems that humans are still needed. Perhaps with collaborative robots (or cobots, as they prefer to be called) working alongside, particularly on the fiddly bits. 

There has been some work done in recent years to encourage children into engineering and manufacturing, and it's great to see companies supporting schools by providing events that might pique their interest in the subject. We were lucky enough to be able to visit the site of The Bloodhound and view the progress of the car that the scientists intend to make the fastest land vehicle on the planet. Events such as these, and the one we attended virtually last week, are vital to showcase the opportunities available for young people in these industries and get them excited about the possibilities open to them. There is a worrying skills shortage in manufacturing and I hope a lot more can be done to encourage young people into this area. I'd also love to see a move towards more job security in the sector, as I feel this is what puts a lot of would-be engineers off. 

I do think there are many plus points to engineering as a potential career, particularly with apprenticeships for school leavers. It's great for those with a more practical mindset to have on-the-job training as well as written exams, as it offers the best of both worlds. Young people can experience the independence of having a job and getting paid while still being supported in their training and working towards a decent qualification. Young people of 16 and 17 have strong personalities and views and know what they want or, more specifically, what they don't want, so I'm really encouraged that there are schemes like this available to get the most out of education, even for those who have totally had enough of school by the time they have to think about further education. I certainly wouldn't discourage my son from pursuing this path if it's something he turns out to be interested in, I think there are a lot worse ways to spend your working life. 

Pinterest Image: A blue robotic arm with palm facing forward


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