Engineering placements fail to attract Scots

Lack of interest in Year in Industry means opportunities go to English pupils

Elizabeth Buie

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A Scottish charity to inspire future engineers and scientists has to go south of the border to fill its Year in Industry work placements for school- leavers because of lack of interest in Scotland, it says.

The Scottish branch of the Engineering Development Trust told TESS that up to a quarter of its 40 placements go to English youngsters each year.

The EDT's Year in Industry programme pays school-leavers pound;12,500 for the year-long placement, which serves as a vocational gap year to prepare them for studying engineering or other sciences at university.

The organisation was urgently looking for a Scottish pupil to take a placement at a French-owned software engineering company, said Caroline Jardine-Smith, head of operations for EDT Scotland.

Other companies involved in the scheme include ScottishPower (two of its 13 placements had to be allocated to English pupils), Rolls-Royce and defence electronics specialists Selex Galileo.

"Engineering is not a subject a lot of people talk about in schools. It's easy for careers guidance staff to know what an accountant does, but there is a big broad spectrum of engineering," said Ms Jardine-Smith.

Because there were so many more people living in the South East of England, she just "pinched them" from her colleagues when she was unable to fill Scottish placements.

Duncan McSporran, EDT Scotland director, said he was concerned about the "lack of talent pull-through, poor perception of engineers in schools, shortage of engineers and the worrying age of engineers in certain industries".

Ms Jardine-Smith called on guidance teachers to be more aware of opportunities such as this in engineering industries, but also blamed a lack of role-models to inspire young people.

The American CSI programmes had inspired young people to apply for forensic science, but the recent How to Build series, produced jointly by the BBC and The Open University, on engineering projects ranging from a nuclear submarine to a communications satellite, had failed to fire pupils' imaginations in the same way.

Allan Colquhoun, university liaison and emerging technologies manager with Selex Galileo, which offers two placements, said his company had benefited from its five-year involvement, but the biggest beneficiaries were the youngsters who took part: the change in them was "dramatic" in a year.

He blamed poor uptake on the careers advice young people received from school, their families and social networks. "It's another symptom of the poor image of science and engineering in the community," he said.

Peter Hughes, chief executive of Scottish Engineering, said EDT Scotland should "try harder" to publicise their programme. He saw "lots of kids" who were interested in engineering.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "We'd be happy to discuss these concerns with EDT. Relative to our GDP, Scotland is currently number one in the world of research in science, engineering and technology and since 2001 we have seen an 11.6 per cent increase in the number of engineering and technology students, with a 4 per cent increase from 2009-10 to 2010- 11 alone."

Feel the benefit

Benefits offered by EDT's Year in Industry programme:

- gaining experience in their chosen field;

- achieving personal development through real work;

- broadening their business and personal horizons;

- increasing opportunity of sponsorship;

- earning real money while enjoying the experience;

- providing students with focused and structured placements;

- maths course to keep skills fresh for university;

- opportunity to complete The Chartered Management Institute Diploma in First Line Management, delivered by Perth College.

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Elizabeth Buie

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