I’m organising an Engineering Festival – one step to help plug the skills gap

My latest column in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald and Wiltshire Times – “My engineering festival will help plug the skills gap”

Engineering festival Column Wiltshire Gazette and Herald
This is the time of year when our schools start to discuss GCSE options with Year 9 pupils ahead of decisions that need to be taken in the next few weeks. Some young people will know exactly what they want to do with their lives from a very young age. Others will not; they will need guidance and information so that they can make a confident choice about the subjects they will take. For all, the choices they make will be the start of pursuing a path they will not only be successful at but will enjoy along the way.

Many pupils and parents will find themselves questioning whether it matters which subjects are chosen. Moreover, many will struggle over balancing the needs of students studying subjects which they enjoy, are passionate about and which also set them on the right path towards further education, apprenticeships, other courses and employment.

Along with examination success, general enjoyment and enthusiasm for the subject are strong indicators that a subject is a good choice. I also believe that variety should be an essential component of subjects that are chosen for GCSE as having a range of subjects keeps all options open. Further, I also believe that a vocational element to education is important.

There is also a selfish local interest in ensuring that our young people make good choices. We were a county that made a lot of things; the importance of our rate of manufacturing cannot be overstated. Manufacturing and engineering are critical to the success of the local and national economy, contributing 27% of GDP in 2014 and employing almost a fifth of the workforce. But Britain currently falls short of the 50,000 skilled engineers needed to ensure that businesses continue to grow. This is a key reason for Britain’s terrible productivity levels.

Wiltshire’s manufacturing and engineering businesses, of which there are many, are crying out for newly trained and skilled staff – especially engineers. If left to continue, this skills gap will grow even further and we will see more and more industry move overseas. In order to help inspire the next generation of engineers, designers and manufacturers, I have begun work planning a Festival of Engineering to bring together many of the region’s top businesses and local school pupils.

The Festival of Engineering aims to help build a strong manufacturing and engineering economy to serve the local community. How? By enthusing young people from an early age, we hope this will inspire them to develop an interest in science, manufacturing and engineering so that they might consider it as an exciting, rewarding career. The Festival of Engineering is not a silver bullet, but I hope that it can grow to become a valuable resource for career education and inspiration in Wiltshire.

I will soon be contacting local schools and businesses to get their involvement in the Festival. If you would like to get involved, or know anyone who this might interest, please contact me on michelle.donelan.mp@parliament.uk