Catherine Burns is the careers advisor for the WMG Academy for Young Engineers in Coventry. Here, she talks about the importance of encouraging pupils to consider all career avenues, the WMG Academy’s work with construction companies, and how important it is for schools and employers to work together to address the skills shortage.

“At WMG we have a clear mission and vision, we want to create an environment where young people with a passion for creating, doing and designing can acquire the technical and business skills required to become the engineers of the future.

Students can join us from the age of 14 at the beginning of their GCSEs, with the option of staying until they’re 19 and completing their A-levels with us, if they so wish.

We encourage students to not only progress academically, but to also develop their engineering and employability skills. As part of this, we recommend they look at different areas, and consider both apprenticeships, and further education.

We understand that university isn’t for everyone, and it is completely up to each student if they would like to go into higher education. A number of our students take this option, and we support them throughout the UCAS application process, which can be a stressful time for any student.

Currently, the trend towards doing apprenticeships is increasing, and we are seeing more students opt to take this route. We help students find the right apprenticeship for them, ensuring they are placed in a role that will benefit them and help reach their career goals.

We are keen to ensure students have a well-rounded and broad introduction into all types of engineering. When pupils join us they are often planning on having a career in automotive engineering, and whilst we are keen on them to progress in this field if they wish, we also want to encourage them to consider other sectors and areas. Due to this, we have seen a huge increase in the pupils going on to undertake careers in the construction industry, and it is now the number one choice for many pupils specifically in design, surveying, civil engineering and architectural roles.

A lot of this enthusiasm to join the built environment stems from various companies in the sector doing work to inspire the next generation. We have a number of partners that come in and speak with our students, attend our careers fairs and offer work experience opportunities to our pupils.

Members of the Kier team often come in to WMG to promote the construction industry to our pupils and since launching Shaping Your World last September the Kier team has been incredibly helpful to our students, and we have seen them a number of times for various reasons.

Firstly, we have a Shaping Your World plaque that the pupils can scan, this will take them through to the Shaping Your World website. Here, they can find out more about the construction of WMG Academy, the people that worked on the build and what opportunities there are in the build environment.

Six members of the Kier team came in to do a careers workshop, and highlight the different roles in the built environment that pupils could consider. The students came away from the workshop feeling inspired and for many it made them see the built environment in a different light, convincing them to consider careers in the sector.
Kier also organised a site visit for 30 students at the University of Warwick. Pupils spent two hours meeting the Kier construction team, and seeing the steel frameworks at the beginning of the build, they were also able to do some measuring using the equipment used by the Kier staff. Many students had never been on a live site before, and they were very excited to be able to visit and see the work that goes into constructing a building. We will be continuing to visit the site regularly, giving them the opportunity to see the construction as it progresses.

Two of our female year 12 students are keen to progress careers in architecture, when I mentioned this to Hannah in the Kier Central team she was able to organise two weeks of work experience for them with the architectural team. They looked at BIM and how this is used in construction, as well as other aspects of the role. When they returned to school they were very enthusiastic about their two weeks, and it allowed them to get a realistic view of what they wanted to do after school. Offering work experience for students is a great idea, it gives them something to work towards at school and focuses them for the future, it could also encourage them to join an industry they might not have previously considered.

Partnering with a variety of companies is very important to us, we want to ensure all of our pupils are given a fair and well-rounded introduction to engineering and that they understand the various opportunities available to them in the field. We invite our partners to the school two or three times a year allowing them to explain the different roles in their company without taking up too much of their valuable time.

We are very lucky because we have a diverse range of partners that are willing to come into the school and promote their roles to our pupils. However are in a very privileged position and we understand this is not the case for all schools.

To close the skills gap it is time for businesses and the education sector to work together to drive recruitment. Employers need to be liaising with teachers and school careers advisors to scope out opportunities to give children an insight into working life. Pupils spend their days in classrooms, and to inspire them to do well in subjects they need to have a goal to work towards. It is important we inspire the next generation when they are as young as possible, to ensure they tailor their career to achieve their goals, and make the right GCSE/A-level options. This gives them a clear career path and platform to progress from, and hopefully in the years to come we will see less of a skills crisis in many industries, including the built environment.