North East businesses celebrated for championing science skills

A number of North East businesses feature in a UK and Ireland-wide report by the Institute of Physics, as part of National Apprenticeship Week. The report Solving Skills One Year On: Partnerships powering apprenticeships, showcases how employers in the North East are championing solutions to tackle local STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering andMathematics) skills gaps and how this has paid dividends to their business and the local economy.
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The report highlights the work done by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (funded by the North of Tyne Combined Authority) to deliver a pilot called Linking Curriculum to the World of Work, involving over 1,500 11-14 year-olds from local high schools and 19 local employers.

Employers included Core Haus, Equinor, Komatsu, Kromek, Northern Gas Networks, Northumberland Wildlife Trust and Northumbria Police Forensic Collision Investigation Unit. The schools involved included Callerton Academy, George Stephenson High School, Highfield Middle School, Marden High School, North Gosforth Academy, St Benet Biscop Catholic Academy and St Mary’s Catholic School.

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Together teachers and industry professionals created resources to help link the curriculum to STEM job opportunities in the local area. Students visited workplaces and did practical challenges, and companies gave engaging talks at schools. The pilot was so successful and will be repeated.

An apprentice at work.An apprentice at work.
An apprentice at work.

Student surveys indicated how effective the project was at breaking stereotypes about STEM careers. At one school, the number of students that thought STEM jobs are ‘only for boys’ fell from 15% to 0%. Across the 1,500 students, 84% were able to make a connection between the curriculum and the world of work, a jump from 40% before the project. 

The report also spotlighted ABS Precision Engineering, for their dedication and investment in apprentices.

ABS Precision Engineering, located in Benton are separately featured in the report as a great example of a small business that has put apprenticeships at the heart of their organisation.

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Their applicants are often young people from a range of backgrounds, they invest time and effort supporting them and breaking down any negative pre-conceptions of what an apprenticeship is. They do it because of their central value of inclusiveness.

“Engineering is missing a trick. Why not have a more diverse workforce? People are people; I want to understand their journey and walk it with them," said Paul Martin, Production Manager at ABS Precision Engineering.

Rebecca Leitch is the first female apprentice at ABS Precision Engineering when she started they immediately sourced appropriately fitted PPE her as this is a known health and safety issue for women. Rebecca says “Coming into the work environment was very different from being at school.

"It took a while to adjust to being at work but my colleagues at ABS, who have had similar journeys as apprentices and similar experiences have been 100% supportive and inclusive. They have made me feel like I belong.”

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The report further spotlights organisations across the UK and Ireland that have invested in championing apprenticeships and can be found at Solving Skills One Year On: Partnerships powering apprenticeships.

More than half (53%) of physics-demanding jobs do not require a degree level qualification, opening the door for apprenticeships to plug the skills gap, delivering STEM careers with future longevity for many young people. Over the past year,

The Institute of Physics met with employers, providers, devolved and regional government and education leaders to discuss ways to tackle the barriers, and find solutions to close the physics skills gap and encourage uptake of apprenticeships.

Tom Grinyer, IOP Chief Executive Officer, said: “It is great to see the success of the organisations who have overcome significant barriers to unlock more physics-related apprenticeships, and I hope that showcasing these examples of good practice will inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

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“Physics skills are central to the new industrial landscape, offering routes to productive employment and rewarding careers for people in every part of the UK.

“But our 2021 Workforce Skills research showed 9,000 physics-related jobs were struggling to be filled, and two thirds of physics-related businesses were forced to suspend or delay R&D and innovation between 2016 and 2021 due to skills shortages.

“More needs to be done to address these key challenges, and we call on governments, employers and education training providers to act now to unlock the opportunities that apprenticeships can bring to deliver the vital skills needed for economic growth across the UKand Ireland.”