Helping technicians gain higher education qualifications
TWI, together with the Open University, has created a scheme for the development of latent talent within the UK's technician workforce to tackle the dearth of qualified engineers.
Many engineering technicians show an aptitude and ability beyond the requirements of the shop floor, but their lack of formal qualification inhibits career progress. Those that do make their way from bottom to top of an organisation make formidable employees because of their wide-ranging understanding of the working of the company. TWI is aiming to enhance this career path.
Welding engineering courses taught at TWI have been assessed by the Open University (OU) for the national Credit Accumulated Transfer Scheme (CATS) points. These courses start from a level designed for the practical person, and success in the examinations gives the candidate points towards an OU degree. Furthermore, the OU is developing Foundation Degrees in engineering, one specifically designed around the TWI courses that will make the steps to higher qualification more manageable.
Lord Leitch pointed out in his December 2006 report, 'Prosperity for all in the global economy – world class skills', that more than 70% of the workforce of 2020 is already at work, so to meet Government targets for higher education qualification requires those currently in the workplace to gain further levels of academic achievement. The TWI/OU scheme, being modular and based on distance learning combined with short-stay taught courses, makes study whilst in full-time employment practicable.
The scheme has the backing of SEMTA, the Sector Skills Council for engineering, and was featured in their September 2008 showcase presented to John Denham, the DIUS Secretary of State, and Baroness Delyth Morgan, the DIUS Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Intellectual Property and Quality.
The initiative is part of wide-ranging effort by TWI to stimulate growth in engineering qualifications. It has an agreement with Cranfield University for exemption of part of the Welding Engineering MSc course for those who hold a Diploma from TWI. TWI is also instrumental in the establishment of a new chair at the OU engineering department, the Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust Chair in Materials Fabrication and Engineering.
The report suggested that 530,000 people per year needed to achieve Level 4 (graduate or equivalent) education compared with around 250,000 at the time of writing. He also noted that with more than 70% of the 2020 workforce already in employment, the shortfall could not be addressed only by attracting more school-leavers into higher education (HE). The numbers are further aggravated by the downward trend in the population of 18 to 20 year-olds between 2010 and 2020 noted by the Office of National Statistics. A significant proportion of the shortage will have to be produced by upskilling of the current workforce.
Leitch also stated that the drive had to be demand-led with employers increasing their involvement in defining Level 3 and 4 needs. He sought the embedding of a culture of learning with a skill system that meets the needs of both the employers and the individuals. To this end he saw the need to reform, relicense and empower the Sector Skills Councils so that they were seen as central to the plan to involve employers.
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