At the State opening of Parliament, Her Majesty the Queen outlined significant proposals for reform within the education sector. The bill, set up to raise standards in British education, is said to be one of the most radical in education in 50 years.

Improved local education services for children and parents, which will be introduced by the government in the next term, will include a new bill designed to “reform education training and apprenticeship,” according to the Speech, and create a national apprentice scheme which will provide for new rights to skills training for adults.

One of the motivating forces behind the measures is the current skills shortage affecting British industry. As an engineering and manufacturing company, Williams F1 is considerably exposed to the problem and has been actively encouraging individuals into these fields of learning for some time. Alex Burns, our Chief Operating Officer and therefore responsible for every aspect of the factory, is a keen supporter of promoting manufacturing and engineering careers in schools so we spoke to him about the skills shortage and what the team are doing to help.

Alex, firstly, what’s so important about engineering as a practice?Williams F1 is predominantly an engineering and manufacturing company. Throughout the motorsport industry and broader engineering industry, it is recognised that there is a global shortage of engineers. Engineering affects everyone, everywhere in the world. Most daily activities, like our alarms waking us up in the morning, cooking our meals, travelling to education establishments or work, and the equipment we use at school, college, university or work, all involve engineering in some way. The fact that there is a shortage of engineers could have an impact on the future development of the world we live in.

What are the reasons behind the shortage of skills in the UK?

There are three main factors believed to be responsible for these skills shortages. Firstly, there are less students applying for engineering courses at UK universities than there ever has been. Secondly, there is a perception of engineering being a boring or even “geeky” career choice when students are selecting their options at school and their university degrees. Finally, there is difficulty in the transition from graduating with an engineering qualification to getting the practical experience required by many employers.

Our experience is supported by the Vision 2020 Survey, conducted in April 2007 by the Learning and Skills Council, which reveals that children between the ages of 14 and 19 throughout the world rank engineering as the second most aspirational career, but British teenagers rank engineering as the least aspirational career. This highlights the fact that the number of British engineers may reduce even further, requiring us to recruit from abroad more regularly in the next 5-10 years.

Potentially, the reason for these surprising results is because, in a country as developed as the UK, the impact of engineering on our day-to-day lives is taken for granted and is not recognised by young people. In contrast, developing countries with fast growing economies such as India and China rated engineering as the most aspirational career. This could be because they recognise the impact of the changes brought about by engineering around them much more. An additional result in the Vision 2020 survey which supports our international recruitment strategy suggests that 59% of respondents in the survey saw an increasingly mobile and flexible workforce in the future, with national boundaries being opened up to workers throughout the world.

The Year in Industry – Organise a Development Year in Engineering and Manufacturing Companies between College and University

Engineering Development Trust – Engineering Education Scheme, Go4Set, Headstart.

And what is Williams doing to support a change?

In an effort to train our own staff, we run six apprenticeships at Williams F1 which comprise over 1% of our workforce. These are in Machining, Model Making, Sub Assembly, Buildings Maintenance and Grounds Maintenance. We also offer placements in our Model Shop and Wind Tunnels to assist us with basic skills support during busy periods of operations in return for training in the most relevant skills.In addition to this, we encourage our staff to further enhance their existing skills by pursuing a development opportunity in the ‘hard to recruit’ fields. This has been tried recently in our Programming Department with great success. This “talent management” is important for staff retention in a highly competitive recruitment market, as well as addressing the skills shortages we face within a ‘hard to recruit’ area of work.This is not to say that Williams F1 is short of job applications – these are pouring in daily. The problems that we have had to adapt to as a company are common in the engineering and manufacturing industry on a much larger scale. As you can see from the above, we are certainly making every effort to attract skilled and hard-working people to the interesting and diverse jobs that we need doing the most!