Local Partnership needed to help solve skills shortage MTI blog - RSA

Blog: Local partnership needed to help solve skills shortage

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  • Picture of Rod Hyde FRSA
    Rod Hyde FRSA
    Tech Director
  • Employment
  • Schools
  • Fellowship

Local partnerships between schools, businesses, professional bodies and the local LEP are needed to help solve the skills shortage crisis in the digital and engineering sectors. This was the major conclusion of the second of four round table discussions that form part of the RSA Fellowship’s initiative entitled “Northern Powerhouse: where do market towns fit in”.


The second round table discussion of the RSA Fellowship’s Market Town Initiative took place in Frodsham on the 9th November.

Frodsham is a market town of about 10,000 people situated on the M56 between Manchester and Chester. In the later part of the 20th Century, employment was dominated by industrial giants including ICI, Shell and BICC. These companies have now gone and many Frodsham residents find employment in the Northern Powerhouse cities that are a long commute away.

However there are three significant developments on the town’s doorsteps: the established and growing Sci-Tech at Daresbury, the new Thornton Science Park and what is billed as UK’s largest recovery park at Ince.

What skills are in short supply and why?

At least from a local point of view, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is too general a term when talking about skills shortages. We heard that recently an advertisement for a pure scientist produced 600 applications but some engineering apprenticeships could not be filled.

The specific shortages are currently in all branches of engineering including the technical as opposed to creative digital sector.

Employers were also concerned that students do not leave school with employability skills like working in a team, confidence, leadership and communication. Overall there was a concern about students’ competence in the workplace.  


These issues are not new so why have things not improved?

Overall society’s attitude to engineers has not changed much. Language is important. We continue to misuse and de-value words like engineer and apprentice and this is unlikely to change. So engineers could perhaps start talking about what they do rather than what they are: I invent, I design, I make etc.

Are engineers paid enough? Is “short supply” another way of saying “they are not paying enough”.

However by the time students are making career decisions, many barriers have been raised to stop them pursuing routes to engineering careers. These routes are perceived as being more difficult or not as interesting or “cool” as other options. Peer pressure plays an important role that is not generally countered by access to inspirational adults and an understanding about how the world works.

During recent visits to local primary schools, when asked about career aspirations, children talked about being footballers, pop stars and hairdressers. Whilst anecdotal, this does illustrate the perceived situation.

There are many complex and complicating factors that come together when students are making choices before and at the time of selecting subject options.  But we can address three factors that have been shown to be important when making career choices:

  • Lifting the career knowledge base
  • Developing employer links
  • Developing transferable skills

Along the way inspiration may be found and definitely confidence is built for students to make informed choices.

Is it the school’s job?

Schools cannot do this alone.

Schools do what they think government wants them to do: currently the emphasis is on traditional subjects, measured by exams results in particular in English and Maths. There is a focus on added value and closing the gaps between the pupil premium cohort and the general population. Other groupings must not be forgotten either.

This is currently perceived as the essential work of a school.

Schools are faced with financial pressures in the guise of a continuous real drop, year on year, in income. They have to find money for National Insurance payments, wage rises and pension contributions that would previously been provided by the government. Over the last five years, budgets have been pared to the bone and so desirable activity like employability skills and career education cannot be given any priority.

In any case, schools do not have the skill base and resources to deliver on all three factors.

Local Partnership

In the past, many large companies took responsibility to develop links with schools and expand the career knowledge base. This is no longer the case in the Frodsham area, with budgets tightened company outlooks are less paternalistic and in any case employment in SME enterprises is more prevalent.

However there was agreement that there is a will locally to help to address the issues. Given the three significant technology based business sites, it was agreed that a local solution should be sought and the case for Frodsham developing stronger links with City regions was less strong from an education and skills point of view at least.

Post Script In setting up the Careers and Enterprise Company, the government recognises that the changing world of work requires an ever deeper relationship between work and education.

In September 2015, the C&E Company has started to roll out a network of local Enterprise Advisers designed to provide “powerful, lasting connections between local businesses and the schools and colleges in the area.” Unfortunately Cheshire and Warrington LEP are not currently participating in the programme.

At an Enterprise workshop on the day after the Frodsham discussion, an Ofsted Inspector told us of a relevant survey that they are holding over the next few months. The survey is designed to gain evidence of the quality of career education and development of employability and personal financial skills in schools. The expectation is that activity in these areas will move from desirable to essential for schools that want to be designated as Outstanding.

Also since the discussion, I have also become aware of a number of RSA Fellowship initiatives that could improve career choice and employability. Clearly there is a need for some joined up activity. The time is right and the RSA Fellowship is well placed to play a part.

Please contact me if you would like to be involved: [email protected]

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  • As a career management specialist for MBAs (and a staunchsustainability fan), I found the RSA Market Town Initiative discussions centralto the way that we devised our value model. With so many parallels between adult and child career management, I waskeen to give back this expertise to our youngest people.  What model would generate incredible learningand impact for children - yet also deliver the same value to all members of thecommunity?  


    And so we created Epic Steps Conferences for Children.  We invite up to 100 children from differentprimary schools around the region to learn together in inspiring venues.  We start in Y5 and children return in Y6 andY7 to build and stretch learning.  OurConferences combine three themes: leadership in children, career awareness andsocial responsibility.  We develop theirnatural ability to think creatively and confidently: they problem solve andlearn about great decision-making.  Usingthis reflection and creativity, children identify the unique value they offerthe world of work and how they fit into organisations.  When in these roles, children make sociallyresponsible choices that work positively for our communities and planet anddrive the innovation that we urgently need for sustainability.


    Our model enables primary schools to come together offcampus and share learning and ideas.  Weinvite secondary school Y10s, 11s and 12s to facilitate learning in our mixedteams of children.  This approach offersentirely child-led learning with the benefit that primary children buildaffinities with their secondary role-models. As importantly, we build employability skills in school leavers byproviding strong opportunities for leadership, team and communication skillsdevelopment.  It's no small feat tomanage and engage 10 very mixed Y5 children for over 3hrs - especially whenthey are surrounded by 90 more!


    Parents and schools can't be accountable for everything -and they certainly can't pay for everything. Working with partners to delivervaluable and enriching experiences is important and those partners need tothink creatively to fund their work. Epic Steps Conferences for Children are free of charge to schools andparents because we want every child to attend - and we also believe that otherstakeholders should take responsibility. We approach local businesses to investin their local skills force and contribute to the delivery of Epic StepsConferences.  They do this throughemployee volunteers speaking at our Conferences and by supporting usfinancially. 


    Businesses in the community, who are committed to their localtalent pool with the required employability skills, can contribute from anearly age and make a solid investment in their local economy.  Our model allows all members of the communityto showcase themselves and take shared responsibility for the development ofconfident, creative and skilled employees - with exactly the right fabulouscitizenship our nation urgently needs.

  • My Company and I have employed apprentices for well over 20 years. We offer local schools the opportunity to send young people for work experience and use that to assess prospective employees.

    I get a great amount of resistance from schools via the parents almost every time we offer employment. Perhaps because schools receive payment based on pupil numbers, perhaps because we wish "bright" kids who might be university fodder. We have been actively discouraged by our local High Schools and Academies from giving talks to school-leavers.

    All my apprentices have been given a sound education alongside practical experience and many now have degrees as a result of Day-release classes. Three are company directors. We have been finalists in Apprenticeship Employer of the Year on five occasions.

    There appears to be very little practical signposting in careers in non-private schools. I speak from experience of my own children (Degree Qualified) and my grandchildren one degree and doctorate - the rest currently at university.

    Unfortunately all the directional advice comes to youngsters fro academics, school - university -school, who have no idea of the working world. The same can be said for the political pressures on education from politicians who have arrived in Parliament without gainful experience in the workplace.

    As Jacqueline so rightly points out there is enormous bias to "sciences of opinion" where a degree is much easier than in sciences of fact such as maths, architecture and engineering.

    Perhaps Rod thinks I'm wrong to consider STEM because it is too wide a subject.

    Perhaps that is because the skills gap is now too wide to bridge. Sorry! Only engineers bridge gaps!

    • Apprenticeships have long been considered to be a secondrate choice by parents, young people and schools. But I think the tide isturning. The cost of university and the fact that a degree is no longer apassport to a well-paid job means that people are looking again. This is goodbecause high quality apprenticeships are good for both the employer and theapprentice. I think we need more high quality apprenticeships.

       Also, we need to be better at providingguidance, experiences and inspiration to motivate girls and boys to take thetougher options that can lead to rewarding STEM careers. The skills gap mayappear to be too wide to bridge. Perhaps we start with a boat or a tunnel!Schools cannot do this alone and we need to build local support. This is whatwe are doing in our town. I hope your local school would welcome an offer tosupport them in this. 

  • Hi

    " What sort of careers are being sign-posted in schools ?"

    Having strategically led a very successful Science Learning Partnership with the National Science Learning Network / National STEM Centre for 2 years (as one of 51 UK Partnerships providing high impact Teacher CPD including how to promote STEM Careers in the classroom for all key stages) find that not only working with excellent STEM-NET teams and STEM ambassadors helps, but also using yourlife.org too.

    Yourlife.org.uk is the government's website to help promote STEM careers and effective engagement to 14-19 year olds, teachers and parents. Engineering is a key focus (all types of engineering) and teachers can use it in lessons to help contextualise their content and inspire pupils to consider other STEM careers they may find interesting (or had never even thought of etc..). 

    Careers advice and connexions would also benefit from this in schools as well, to help maximise the number of pupils taking STEM subjects to pursue more STEM Careers.

    Hope this helps ?

    Sally Ann Warnes

    Development and Enhancement Lead (Faculty of Education)

    Edge Hill University 

  • Some really interesting comments.  A few points from my experience in schools/FE/HE:

    What sort of careers are being signposted to students in schools? Not engineering apparently, and certainly not anything arts-related.  The latter is often (and mistakenly) not considered to be an area of viable employment.  So that's 2 significant gaps.  

    More could be done in schools to encourage and develop employability skills by giving 'live brief' contexts to curriculum work.  This doesn't have to be a separate element dependent on careers input. It is quite possible without detracting from required curriculum coverage, but needs teachers to be aware of how industry works.  A business link really works, but this might be simply a discussion between teacher and industry rep to get the angle and outcomes right, or, even better, a visit from industry rep to talk to students in the context of their curriculum work.

    Increasingly students should be prepared for self-employment.  At the art school where I work (HE) we assume now that students are as likely, if not more likely, to be self-employed or have a mix of p/t and self-employment, so prepare them to be entrepreneurial, innovative and able to spot niche opportunities.  We have also just been asked to take part in a series of short films for BBC Bitesize encouraging students to think about studying art and presenting the breadth of opportunities available, so there seems to be an awareness somewhere of the bits of the school curriculum that are being subsumed by other stuff!