Schools should encourage young people to get into manufacturing and engineering instead of advocating A-levels and university as the best career path to take.
The bold suggestion highlighting apprenticeships in secondary schools was one of the key messages at the launch of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation’s new Technology Training Centre.
The state-of-the art facility in Perry Bar, which will train up to 250 manufacturing apprentices a year, was opened by local MP Khalid Mahmood, himself a former engineering apprentice.
The training centre has seen £2 million invested by EEF, formerly the Engineering Employers’ Federation, as part of a push to get more young people into engineering.
The call to push apprenticeships in secondary schools came from young apprentices themselves.
Emily Morgan, a third year apprentice electrical maintenance engineer at Goodyear, who has trained via EEF’s apprenticeship service, said she was pressured to go down the university route but never wanted to do it.
“I could have gone to university, which is what my school pressured people into doing but it was my dad who helped get me into engineering,” she said.
“There was no advice on any alternatives other than university when coming to the end of my school life in year 11 – all the options were about going on to do A-levels.
“There was no advice on doing apprenticeships. I was fortunate my dad was in the aerospace industry and I ended up on the EEF website where I applied for an apprenticeship at Goodyear.
“It’s not about pushing people into anything but about giving people the knowledge about what else is out there.”
Ms Morgan, who said she felt fortunate she was doing something she “really enjoys”, said she has even tried to convince friends who chose the university route what they are missing out on.
She added: “I try to argue with my friends that you get skills, knowledge and experience which a lot of university students don’t get.
“I think the reason some of my friends go to university is that they didn’t know what else was out there for them to do.”
Ms Morgan’s sentiments were echoed by other apprentices, including Dan Foster from UTC Wolverhampton who is training at the new centre.
“An apprenticeship is the best opportunity now, particularly with the way the education system is going,” he said.
“University is very expensive and this is the best way to get into a career and a lifetime job.”
Jessica Taylor, an apprentice technician and trainee service support officer with Avery Weigh-Tronix, said: “At school we were told the only way to get a decent job was to go to university.
“I did my first year of A-levels, got a leaflet from local college about engineering and thought that is the best option for me.
“I did my first year, got distinctions applied for a number of jobs and got offered six in the end.
“I think it needs to be more focused in schools, particularly to 14 and 15-year-olds.
“It’s really important as engineering is the future of our country and getting young people in is really important.
“If you look at countries like Germany and Japan it’s engineering that’s keeping them going.”
Former Lib Dem MEP, Liz Lynne, who is now on the EEF board, endorsed the views of young apprentices.
“We have to make sure the apprentice route is the way some young people are encouraged to go,” she said.
“So much of careers advice is about going to university and getting a degree.
“But as young people are seeing the way ahead they should be encouraged to go down the apprenticeship route.”
Mr Mahmood, who started an apprenticeship with Delta Metals in 1977, also called for a culture shift in education.
He said: “People shouldn’t be written off because they don’t have academic qualifications.
“There has been a huge reliance on elitist education but that academic education has pushed away a lot of apprenticeships and vocational work.”
“This centre by EEF is a huge step forward. What it will do is allow us to support the fantastic manufacturing that is going on in the UK.”