Employer engagement with university technical colleges (UTCs) must improve to transform the training of a new generation of engineers and close the skills gap, a report has found.
An interim report into the progress of the colleges seven years after the first opened in the UK said that students are more ‘work-ready’, however recruting suitable employers is a challenge.
The ‘Evaluation of university technical colleges’ report by the National Foundation for Educational Research said: “Employer input is an expensive thing for companies to do. They do understand the need, but having staff off-site eats into profits.
“UTCs need to keep showing employers what we are giving them – time invested now will give them are more skilled and enthusiastic employee – students will remember and want to work with these people.”
“Some employers just want to tick a box to say they have worked with the UTC and don’t fully commit or engage”, one senior college leader commented.
Some colleges had relationships with employers where they co-developed and delivered projects, with employers “taking ownership” of units or modules of the curriculum. The main challenge facing UTCs was to secure a suitable range of employers providing high-quality input into the curriculum and to recruit and retain appropriate students, the report said.
Royal Academy of Engineering director of engineering and education Dr Rhys Morgan said: “Every effort should be made to address the engineering skills gap in this country and UTCs are an important avenue into technical careers. There are clear benefits of employer involvement for both industry and students alike.
“All UTCs in this report had an employer presence, but the varying approaches to employer involvement and the challenges of finding the right employers to involve need to be addressed as this type of technical education evolves and matures.”
The research focused on ten case studies and found that all of the colleges demonstrated moderate employer input. Input included informing the curriculum, allowing pupils to observe and experience every day industry activity, ongoing and regular input into projects, visits to workplaces, and employer talks. The report was undertaken on behalf of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Edge Foundation.