Is more work experience the solution to the skills gap?

Is more work experience the solution to the skills gap?

According to the IET’s Skills and Demand in Industry 2016 report, 62% of engineering employers say graduates don’t have the right skills for today’s workplace, while 68% are concerned that the education system will struggle to keep up with the skills required for technological change.

In an effort to combat these challenges, the IET is launching a new campaign, titled ‘Engineering Work Experience for All’, with the intention of convincing employers and universities to offer more work experience opportunities to engineering students.

Logically, this makes sense. Employers claim they face a problem of graduates not having the right skills, so the solution is to get them more practical and hands on experience.

However, there is a potential problem here. Work experience is only worthwhile if employers can ensure it is high in quality. Simply labelling time in industry as ‘work experience’ and hoping young people develop skills on the job is inadequate and can’t be considered a solution.

Instead, to get the best from work experience, students must work on real projects and be assigned tasks that both challenge them and help to develop new skills – all while working under the stewardship of an experienced mentor.

We often hear stories of apprenticeships and work experiences from elsewhere in industry where students are set the same repetitive task day in day out. While this may be a useful exercise for employers, who can fill a gap within their own operations, it is of no use to young people.

In our own operations we ensure our trainees, apprentices and graduates experience the entire metal forming and machining process first-hand, with the support of an expert. The benefits of this are threefold. Firstly, they develop more skills and at a faster rate. Secondly, they’re happier and more motivated, thanks to a varied and interesting set of tasks. Finally, they gain a better, more holistic understanding of the entire process, which will be incredibly valuable as they progress in their career.

This style of work experience, where the needs of the student are put ahead of industry and company agendas, will be critical to closing the skills gap. We just hope the IET’s new campaign gets this message across successfully and businesses take note.

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