Inspiring tomorrow’s engineers: Tideway's mission to attract and prepare young talent for the sector

December 13 2016  —  by Scott Young, Head of Skills and Employment, Tideway

 There is a significant shortfall in engineering skills. Professor John Perkins’ 2013 review of engineering skills currently estimates a shortfall of an astonishing 100,000 new professionals each year.

The review focuses on our three main challenges as a sector: inspiring young people about the possibilities engineering offers, supporting education providers to ensure young people are equipped with technical skills our industry needs and keeping young talent in the profession.

These key themes occur again and again in reviews and campaigns.

There’s a clear irony here, on the one hand there are too few people entering their sector to fill a growing skills gap, whilst on the other young people aren’t aware of the opportunities in the economy for them to find meaningful employment.

It’s a quandary that can only be solved by one of Perkins’ main recommendations: we need better partnerships across the engineering industry to overcome these challenges.

This urgent need for collaboration is why publication of the Perkins’ review coincided with the launch of Tomorrow’s Engineers Week,a cross-industry campaign to inspire young people to consider a career in engineering.

Just a week ago the industry united for the third time since its inception to display the opportunities on offer to a large pool of potential employees.

Tideway – a £4.2bn major infrastructure project which aims to prevent the increasing problem of sewage overflowing from London’s Victorian system into the River Thames joined organisations across our industry in these efforts.

Compared to our engineering counterparts in transport though, sewage can sometimes be hard to “sell”. We are not, after all, building High Speed Poo!

Our contribution to Tomorrow’s Engineering Week was a week-long social media campaign to raise the profile of our young engineers, a webinar with local school pupils and a parliamentary event for MPs and stakeholders on skills and training.

But outside of the noise created around these high-profile public campaigns, it’s the work behind the scenes in the remaining 51 weeks of the year that will determine our success.

Across the country more and more employers, schools and colleges are collaborating to plug the engineering skills gap, and in turn futureproof our industry with a local and highly skilled workforce.   

And whilst encouraging young people to consider a career in construction and engineering is a crucial first step, it is only by competing with the attractive employment programmes offered by financial and professional services that will we convince them to opt for a rewarding career in our industry.

That’s one reason why, we’re taking our collaboration with education providers further and expanding our education programme beyond the provision of teaching resources, careers information and work experience for young people.

This academic year, we’re embarking on a major new partnership with London colleges, taking inspiration from the FutureProofing campaign’s assertion that strong lasting partnerships of this nature “better prepare young people for employment, providing greater insight into the skills, competencies and qualifications that employers are looking for”.

Rather than focusing on young people, we’re working in partnership with the Association of Colleges (AoC) to target college tutors and lecturers through a new CPD programme.

Our aim will be to give teachers experience of working in the industry, allowing them to put their academic teaching in a practical context, and better enabling them to inspire and inform their students about engineering.

But it doesn’t end there, by increasing the knowledge, skills and effectiveness of college lecturers and teachers, in turn we hope that students taught by them will be better equipped with the skills required in a modern construction and engineering workplace.

This kind of collaboration meets both industry needs for more young people coming through the talent pipeline and, simultaneously, young people’s needs for fulfilling and rewarding careers with employers who value what they have to offer.

Tideway is heeding the call for collaboration that Professor Perkins issued 3 years ago. Far from standing on the side lines bemoaning the lack of available talent, we are taking the action needed to secure the future of our industry.

Scott Young

Scott is responsible for delivery of skills and employment objectives on Tideway, a £4.2bn project to construct a 25 kilometre sewer tunnel needed to prevent an average 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage discharging into the tidal River Thames each year. The project’s priorities include ensuring a suitably skilled workforce is available, that local people and under-represented groups gain employment and promoting science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education and careers. Scott and his team run a successful education programme working across 14 London boroughs, which last year saw project staff spend the equivalent of 90 minutes of every day in the classroom. In his role he is responsible for ensuring contractors meet minimum targets including on the employment of apprentices, local people and ex-offenders.