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Young talent needs our help

David Johns

Safeguarding a place for our future engineers

In 2008, as chair of ICE West Midlands, I led a small working group representing businesses and public sector organisations in the West Midlands to create a template for professional apprenticeships that integrated with the traditional ICE training agreements. The target was school leavers employed on day release, to create a new generation of technicians and incorporated engineers.

The ICE, recognising the benefits of opening access to younger engineers, amended their routes to membership to include an apprenticeship, and Amey, my employer, recruited its first three professional civil engineering apprentices in 2009.

How things have changed in six years. In October I will start my second term on the ICE Council, and have been involved in the debate on further simplification of routes to membership. I am still employed by Amey, which now has a target of 2% (over 400) of their employees being on apprenticeships.

I welcome the recognition that the challenges we face in transforming our infrastructure for future generations can only be addressed by creating a better balance of skills and knowledge in our engineering teams - and not just civil engineering. Chartered engineers should be leading teams of incorporated engineers, engineering technicians, graduates and apprentices on training agreements. This balance will create more rewarding roles for all in which we will flourish. So how will we deliver this revolution?

The building blocks are there already. Government support for apprentices is now well established, and the “EngTechNow” campaign involving the ICE, the Institutions of Mechanical Engineers and Engineering & Technology - and funded by the Gatsby Foundation - is working towards 100,000 registered technicians by 2020 - 30,000 in civil engineering. Having signed up some major companies as champions, this will provide the leverage to extend it to smaller businesses.

Public sector clients have key roles to play by working with their tier one suppliers and ensuring apprenticeships are built into their contracts. Small and medium enterprises employ many staff between them but cannot afford to develop training schemes. The major companies need to collaborate to create a momentum that includes their own supply chain, colleges and universities.

Our profession has an ageing demographic with many experienced engineers reaching retirement in the next five to 10 years. Recruitment slumps in previous recessions have created skills gaps, and demand for these skills is set to increase as infrastructure investment has become a political priority.

My vision of six years ago is unchanged - West Midlands businesses, clients and further education establishments collaborating on the recruitment and training of our future engineering profession; joint recruitment initiatives and engagement with schools so students understand the excitement, opportunities and rewards a career in civil engineering offers; smaller businesses getting involved through companies like Amey - and most importantly - enabling our most experienced engineers to pass on their knowledge before it is too late.

Without embarrassment, I borrow the headline from former ICE President Paul Jowitt’s presidential address - “Now is the Time” - it certainly is for our apprentices and technicians.

  • David Johns is a member of ICEWest Midlands Council

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