Adam Bradley, Director at Corrosion Resistant Materials, argues that while schools should dedicate more time to encouraging STEM subjects and promoting alternative career paths beyond traditional academic routes, the onus is also on industry and government to do their bit by promoting and showcasing opportunities in manufacturing and other technical fields for change to be effective.

As children, we often think of working as doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers or firefighters. We see careers as quite abstract and only see the potential jobs that we can see in our daily lives. It is no wonder that many children often follow the same career paths as their parents.

When I was a child, and especially when I was in secondary school, I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career. Some would say I still don’t know to this day!

At school in the 1990s there was very little careers education and very little advice on different career paths I could take. Most of my role models at school were teachers, and therefore from around the age of 13 to 14, I wanted to be a teacher.

Adam Bradley Corrosion resistant materials
Adam Bradley

I didn’t know the options that were out there, so I set off and did the relevant GCSEs, A-Levels and university degree for teaching. I was on a conveyor belt to a career I thought I wanted, but one I had no experience or understanding in. At the end of this journey, I qualified and started the job I always thought I wanted to do. Quite quickly I realised that it wasn’t for me and that I had spent the last 7 years working towards a career I didn’t want. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one at this time also.

Schools, from my experience, were set up to achieve results. The ‘brightest’ pupils would be pushed to university and the ones they considered ‘un-academic’ were treated as second-class citizens, often failing to be picked up by the college system or local employers. Teachers, who cannot be blamed for this, also didn’t have experience in the world of work apart from teaching and so only had knowledge of one career path, which involved going to university. The government at the time also had a huge push on ‘University for Everyone’, persuading more and more into this route without care or attention to the student’s wellbeing or prospects.

“This was over 25 years ago, so you could be excused into thinking things were a lot different today. However, the reality is that very little has changed in terms of the perception that university is best.”

Manufacturing, apprenticeships, college and other career pathways are seen as second-class and only available to students who are not academic. Academic high achievers are still pushed into university to satisfy league tables and quotas. For some, this is of course the best option; but for others, it might not be.

Over the past three or four years I have become a lot more involved in speaking to students within secondary schools about careers in manufacturing and the benefits of doing an apprenticeship. In my view, it is about giving as much information to students about different careers and training options for their future. In fairness, most schools are now on board with this, and many are very active in putting on careers fairs, talks in assemblies and other opportunities for their students to get real-life exposure to as many career paths as possible. Indeed, it has also been actively taken on by the government, and the Department for Education as schools now must meet the Gatsby Benchmarks for good careers guidance.

That said, there is still work to be done on tackling the notion that apprenticeships are a second-best option. This does need to change, especially in manufacturing, if we are to nurture and attract the best students into the industry. The British manufacturing industry is today high-tech and very advanced. We have industries such as defence, nuclear, automotive, power generation – all of which are very demanding and require the brightest minds to drive it forward.

Schools have a role to play in this, government has a role to play in this, but most importantly industry and manufacturing have a major role to play in this. There is a real skills and workforce shortage within manufacturing and a damaging idea that it is unskilled and ‘dirty’ work. However, the opposite can be said to be true and unless manufacturers shout about their industry, go into schools and engage with their future talent pool, nothing will change.

Within South Yorkshire, there are so many amazing schemes that companies and industry can engage with to help educate the talent of tomorrow. Some of these include:

  • Enterprise Advisor Network – Schools link with a business to help guide and shape their careers education. There is also the opportunity for teacher internships with local business.
  • Education Alliance Project – Events such as Career Fairs, Speed Networking and Mock Interviews are organized by the team within schools.
  • Better Learners Better Workers programme – Employer-led programme that provides young people with knowledge, skills, and information about the world of work.
  • Get Up to Speed with STEM – A yearly Exhibition that puts secondary students in direct contact with employers from STEM careers.
  • LEAF Careers Fair – A yearly Exhibition that puts secondary students in direct contact with employers and training providers.
    See it Be it Sheffield – Inspires the next generation by linking schools with local employers.

So, as you can see, there are lots of opportunities for business and in particular manufacturing to engage better with schools and their students and to help plug that skills gap. The more we can get students excited about their future career opportunities within manufacturing and the benefits of an apprenticeship, the more we will encourage and inform the next generation as to what career paths they can take after school.

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