Anthony McCourt, chair of the local advisory board for the MET Academy of Business & Enterprise – a collaboration between Birmingham Metropolitan College, regional employers and Career Academies UK – speaks about his passion for the cause.

As the gap between the worlds of school and work widens, one of the greatest fears of the current recession is fast becoming fact – the emergence of a jobless generation.

Even the most motivated and well-qualified of young people are finding it difficult to land their first job in Britain’s struggling economy.

In shedding jobs and freezing vacancies, companies are making little allowance as to how they will service their business when the good times return.

While we future-proof our climate, we can’t forget our economy either.

Britain’s anticipated growth could fuel demand for about two million new jobs by 2017, according to research from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

All the more reason why companies should understand their role in equipping young people now with the essential skills to contribute to their future success.

The MET Academy of Business and Enterprise, part of Birmingham Metropolitan College, is leading the field in encouraging regional employers to join the Career Academies programme to provide 16-19 years old with practical business experience.

Our mission is been backed up by an Ipsos Mori poll at the end of 2009 in which business leaders identified education and skills as their biggest concern after the economic crisis and lack of finance.

Greater collaboration between the boardroom and the classroom is clearly the way forward and the MET Academy is the only Career Academy in the UK pioneering this approach to providing young people with the business experience and skills.

Our students have attended, and will continue to attend, ‘guru’ lectures from industry figures as well as workshops and site visits, all of which are aimed at giving them hands-on experience to help them develop their own business ideas or give them the relevant skills to help them to be more successful when they move into employment.

We are looking to businesses in the West Midlands to support us and help these young people get out of the classroom and into the boardroom, to really see what life is like within a business environment.

The board has a clear but challenging aim. We collectively need to provide a six-week minimum wage-paid internship for each of the 34 academy students.

The internship will undoubtedly be the jewel in the crown in the academy calender and students will benefit from work-related experience at the coal face and from having an employer to mentor them.

It’s a total win-win situation for local employers. They benefit the city, contributing to its long term economic prosperity, gain the input of a new enquiring mind, improve their skills in coaching and managing people and develop an employability pipeline that will eventually lead to a more diverse employee base.

When times are tough it is hard to see beyond the bottom line and put time aside for what could be seen as ‘doing your bit’ for the local community, but supporting the MET Academy is a tangible investment in the future of our young people, the future workforce, your business and our city.

On Thursday, February 25, we’re holding a Partners in Business event, to help recruit companies to provide internships this summer.

As I said this about all of our futures and as a graduate of the city myself, I’m passionate about supporting the MET Academy.

It’s exactly what Birmingham needs to nuture the business talents of our young people.

Our call to arms is clear. If we as a city and as a region can get behind and support the future generations of Birmingham, it helps us and our city both now and in the future.

It’s not typical of many cities to do this but it’s typical of this city – there’s an obligation on each of us to make it happen.

Support in 2010 means more than it ever did because it’s needed more now than ever. It’d be super to have you and your business on board fighting for the future.

* Case study: JLR invests to help young engineers

The shortage in engineering skills has been well documented and despite the long term decline in manufacturing there continues to be a strong demand for engineering skills in the UK economy.

High-profile closures and redundancies over the past 20 to 30 years have, however, dented its image. Generations who have seen their parents out of work do not consider engineering to be a long term career prospect. 

Well known British engineer Sir James Dyson says “let engineers make Britain great again,” but states that the problem is engineering is seen almost as a dirty word.

“We’re told its an old industry,”Sir James says.

“We encourage our kids to become ‘professionals’ – lawyers, accountants, doctors.  Engineering is a bit of a non-entity.”

This is a serious issue for engineering manufacturers in the West Midlands. So much so that Jaguar Land Rover invests £1.5 million a year in its award winning community education facilities to encourage more people to consider a career in the sector.

With five education partnership centres across the country, the two in the West Midlands operate in partnership with social enterprise company BXL and deliver bespoke, innovative, curriculum based sessions in a real business environment to young people from primary to university students.

“The Education Partnership Centres are as much about educating the teachers as the children,” says Fiona McGarry, Education Partnership Centre manager.

“Many teachers have gone straight from university to teaching and don’t understand how manufacturing and engineering has changed and are less likely to encourage their pupils to take up a career in the industry.

“The centres address the teaching and learning requirements of the national curriculum that are difficult for teachers to deliver without knowledge of engineering, manufacturing and science related sectors, or indeed business as a whole.”

A recent visit by students from Birmingham’s MET Academy of Training and Enterprise is an example of how the centres work to positive effect, showing 16 to 19-year-olds what the real world of engineering is all about.

The students were not only taken on a tour of the factory, seeing the whole process of vehicle manufacture, but working with BXL staff they also got to learn about the latest techniques such as lean manufacturing and see them put into practice. 

“We split the MET students into teams,” said Ms McGarry. “They had to simulate running their own factories and delivering their order to the customer on time and right first time. 

“Competing against other teams, they worked to become the preferred supplier. They had to ensure they were building their product in the most efficient way and that their factory area was organised. 

“The students were able to relate this back to what they had seen on their tour in the morning.”

For Jaguar Land Rover the younger they capture the attention of students the better.  The centres show that actually engineering can be an attractive career option and demonstrate the different routes into engineering, through new government diplomas, apprenticeships and as graduates.

“The MET is exactly how colleges should operate,” says Ms McGarry. 

Seta Bassi, academy manager for the MET said there should be centres like Jaguar Land Rover, that provide practical experience of the world of work.

“Students enrolling on our course are doing so specifically to get first hand experience of industry,” Ms Bati says. “They attend guru lectures, workshops and site visits, all designed to help them develop their own business ideas or give them the relevant skills to help them be more successful when they move into employment.

“Our challenge is always to find businesses in the West Midlands to support us and help these youngsters get out of the classroom and into the boardroom, to really see what life is like within a business environment.”

With millions of engineering jobs reported to be available in the coming years, it is crucial that the perception of the industry is turned around. 

The Government is going some way to help young people get switched onto technology based subjects through encouraging STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) literacy in schools. 

But perhaps what is really needed is a change at the top. Taking China as an example. Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, graduated in hydraulic engineering from Beijing’s Tsinghua University, and Wen Jiabo, the Chinese prime minister, is a postgraduate engineer. 

China produces 14 times as many engineers as the UK does.

We may struggle to compete with developing nations such as China, but engineering needs to be given more priority if the country and the region are to thrive.