Schools for skills
A pioneering scheme to give 14-16-year-olds a taste of what life is like in the motor industry is gathering momentum, spurred by partnerships between schools and colleges and a new vocational qualification offered by the IMI. Report by Chris Phillips.
A school set up more than 300 years ago to teach children Latin is now playing a pioneering role in automotive engineering.Richard Hale School in Hertfordshire recently unveiled a £100,000 engineering resources centre to provide GCSE and A-level students with practical experience of design and manufacturing technology.“Students will have full access to state of the art training and interactive work stations,” said the school’s deputy head Steve Neate. “These provide experience of a wide variety of technologies, including electronics, hydraulics, pneumatics, robotics and injection moulding – all within the context of the automotive industry.” What’s happening at Richard Hale is just one of a series of initiatives to provide 14-16-year-olds with an insight into the motor industry through partnerships between schools, colleges and automotive organisations.As IMI chief executive Sarah Sillars explained: “It is vital to the future of the UK retail motor industry that efforts are made to engage, educate and equip enthusiastic and high calibre young people into this sector. The increase in new technology and the challenging business environment demands highly skilled and professionally qualified people.”To help achieve its goal, the IMI has introduced to its awards portfolio a level one pre-apprenticeship vocation qualification targeted at youngsters capable of achieving five GCSEs at grades A to C. This qualification allows progression to levels two and three, effectively enabling 16-year-olds to ‘fast track’ directly to year two of a Modern Apprenticeship. “This is proving to be an attractive proposition for employers,” said the Institute’s business development manager Gavin Hall. “Honda and Ford, for example, fully recognise this level one qualification and offer successful candidates an automatic interview for a place on their own apprenticeship programmes.”Since its launch last year, more than 1,000 candidates have registered for the pre-apprenticeship programme and Hall forecasts “significantly increased” registrations as more schools and colleges adopt the qualification. “Blackburn College (an IMI approved centre) alone forecast over 100 registrations from local schools,” added Hall.Most of the credit for the Richard Hale venture goes to training consultant and IMI Fellow Ron Denney. “It was his vision that got it off the ground,” said Steve Neate. Denney himself says that for the pre-apprenticeship programme to succeed “it’s vital to have a genuine partnership between schools and colleges, with joint delivery, supported by the car manufacturers”.That belief is echoed by Richard Hale School’s partner, Epping Forest College, whose head of technology, Mike Scott, stressed: “It’s no good schools handing over responsibility to a third party and having an arm’s length relationship.”Richard Hale’s new engineering resources centre is supported by another feature initiated by Ron Denney, a double-decker bus equipped with computer-based simulation equipment and vehicle demonstration systems. This, which in turn is complemented by a £50,000 electronics centre at Epping Forest College, means that pupils have access to three, flexible sources of theoretical and practical expertise.Four other schools in the Lea Valley area are in the process of adopting the Epping Forest-Richard Hale template, with Mike Scott reporting enthusiastic support from local franchised dealers to provide students with work experience placements.Meanwhile, a pilot scheme for a 14-16-year-olds pre-apprenticeship programme, launched in Nottingham last autumn, is being extended as from this month (September). It will continue to involve a partnership comprising training provider EMTEC, Toyota, the Learning & Skills Council, Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham and the IMI. As with the Richard Hale venture, it is delivered over two years with students attending training on a weekly basis. Six Nottinghamshire schools have featured in the pilot scheme involving 78 students who have now completed the first year of the programme. At the end of the second year they will gain the IMI level 1 in light vehicle maintenance and repair. Now EMTEC reports that other car manufacturers are considering introducing similar programmes and more schools are signing up for it. There are also plans to start running the programme in other cities around the Midlands, in particular Leicester and Derby, as well as at other locations around the country.Student Laura Knight, who attends Djanogly City Academy and was runner-up in the IMI pre-apprentice of the year award, said of the scheme: “I have always wanted to join the army and service tanks, either straight after A levels or after university. This course has made me even more determined to do this. It has been great to have the chance to start learning these technical skills two years earlier than normal.”Gary Harlock, regional training manager for the Toyota Academy, commented: “The programme is part of our widening participation in the Nottingham community. The inclusion of the pre-apprenticeship to the Academy’s portfolio means that we now deliver training to an audience that starts at school and extends through our adult programmes to university.”Moving further north, a partnership between ReMIT, the training arm of the Retail Motor Industry Federation, and Laisterdyke High School in Bradford will not only bring much needed automotive vocational training to the area, but it has also helped the school to gain specialist status as a Business and Enterprise College.Work on the project started in late 2003 with funding provided by ReMIT, Laisterdyke School, the West Yorkshire LSC and the IMI. Originally, only three schools were earmarked to use the centre but due to ever increasing demands, 11 schools will now be sending pupils when the centre opens this month (September).ReMIT will be running an IMI Level 1 Technical Certificate, Key Skills and work experience programme which will involve learners attending the centre for three hours a week. They will receive technical training in a workshop and classroom environment and also follow a structured 10-day per year work experience programme in the city’s dealerships. “Interest from motoring groups has been intense,” said ReMIT operations manager Andrew Gilmour. “They have, at 16, an employee who they have mentored for two years and who comes with automotive qualifications.” As well as the 14–16-year-old course, younger pupils will also have access to the centre enabling them to make an informed choice when they select their GCSEs and vocational subjects. Requests have also been made by both the schools and the dealerships for business administration and customer service courses. This has resulted in a separate business administration unit being created with call handling systems and further IT equipment. Now there are plans to develop the project further and building on a new £3million skills centre is due to start this December on a nearby site.