“We need to engage with schools so young people get good advice about careers in the utilities sector early on.”

New initiatives are urgently required to provide much-needed engagement between the utilities sector and the education system to attract a new generation of workers and avert the looming skills crisis.

The consensus in industry is that the education system and government must work harder to raise the standards of school leavers and deliver a new generation capable of keeping the country running. Universities are struggling to find students with suitable grades in key subjects such as maths and physics, while the utilities and construction face a chronic shortfall in engineers.

Our second Industry Skills Forum brought together leaders from the utilities and construction sector with representatives of the education system and awarding bodies. We are running the events to highlight the need for much more concerted action in the face of the greatest skills crisis we have ever faced. This particular event highlighted the need for greater engagement with schools to ensure young people get good advice about careers in the utilities sector early on.

Forum participants agreed that school leavers are unaware of what the term “engineer” actually means, which in many cases causes them to look at other career options instead. Frustratingly, there is a perception outside the industry that engineering is either for high or low achievers, closing it off as a viable career route for many. As we all know, there is a wide range of roles to suit all levels and a variety of routes to get on to the career ladder, not only through academia, which does not suit everyone. This is the message we need to be delivering to schools, students and parents to generate interest in the sector and encourage students at an early age to choose the relevant subjects to study.

It is clear that the Department for Education has responsibility to invest much more heavily in the careers advice given in schools, but in reality teachers themselves are too stretched to do this. That’s why a more co-ordinated approach that will provide an interface between employers and education is vital. As an industry, we simply cannot sit back and wait for the government to take action.

So it is important to us that our Forum isn’t just another talking-shop, but instead becomes a facilitating platform for tangible change. We are delighted that all the participants are now working together on a new initiative to partner with schools to deliver an engagement programme that will bridge the gap between industry and education, providing much needed careers advice.

 Chris Wood, chief executive, Develop Training

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