UTC Norfolk: Joining forces to tackle our engineering skills gap

The energy, engineering and advanced manufacturing sectors are hugely important to the economic development of Norfolk and the East of England, but 64% of engineering employers in the region report skills gaps (CBI Annual Skills Survey).  Forecasts put the requirement for skilled technicians to grow by 25,000-30,000 over the next 5 years.

In just 6 months’ time a dynamic partnership of education and businesses in Norfolk who are passionate about addressing this skills gap will have actively begun tackling it.  September 2014 will see the first students walk through the doors of the new University Technical College (UTC) Norfolk, which is located on the site of the former Connaught factory on Old Hall Road in Norwich. 

Specialising in engineering and skills for the energy industry, UTC Norfolk is backed by Transforming Education in Norfolk (the TEN Group), as Lead Sponsor, and supported by the University of East Anglia, City College Norwich and employer partners including Gardline, Lotus Cars, Future Marine Services and STR Motorsport.

UTCs are a new type of school for 14-18 year olds which combine academic and technical education. UTCs are being rolled out across the country to address the UK plc skills gap.

What sets UTC Norfolk apart from many existing education institutions is not just the combination of practical and academic learning that is so crucial to training future generations of engineers, but also the extent to which the UTC is able to align its curriculum to provide the skills that employers need.

One way in which it will do this is through a series of Technical Challenges that UTC Norfolk students will complete in addition to studying GCSEs and A Levels and applied engineering qualifications. 

These Technical Challenges will see our employer partners coming in to the UTC and setting students real-world engineering problems that relate to their industry.  UTC students will then work on these challenges over 4-5 weeks, before presenting back to the employer with their solutions. 

In addition to giving students an appreciation of real projects that they could find themselves working on in a few years’ time, this engagement will also be used to highlight specific opportunities available with particular employers.  This is intended to aid understanding of the job roles available, in a much more direct way than traditional careers guidance can, as well as letting students know what they can expect to earn after they graduate and start working.         

To fit in all of this learning, problem-solving and hands-on skills development, the UTC students will have a longer school day than the vast majority of their counterparts.  The positive enthusiasm shown by our first cohort of applicants for this demanding schedule is indicative of the strong motivation they have to become engineers.

This is in stark contrast to some claims that have been voiced elsewhere about a supposed lack of ambition in our County.  This is certainly not the case among the high calibre students we are seeing with their hearts set on careers in the engineering, energy and advanced manufacturing sectors.        

As you would expect, UTC Norfolk’s innovation in how its students will learn is reflected in the amazing 5,400m² building that is currently being developed.  The first floor area is set to become innovative classrooms and labs for specialist teaching, alongside computer suites, independent study space, and an Employers’ Lounge where students will meet with businesses.

The remaining half of the building will be devoted to technical learning, with students developing their skills in disciplines such as electrical and electronic engineering, materials and engineering science.

Businesses of all sizes with an interest in the work of UTC Norfolk are invited to come and have a tour and find out more about how we are addressing the engineering skills gap.  Please email Principal Alex Hayes (principal@utcn.org.uk) if you would like to do this.

UTC Norfolk has a limited number of places available for students interested in studying with us. Visit www.utcn.org.uk for details of how to apply.