Mark Kennedy: An education fit for the hi-tech future

Mark Kennedy is principal of UTC Leeds which opens this week.

Mark Kennedy is principal of UTC Leeds which opens this week.

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TECHNOLOGY is developing at breakneck speed and education must get ahead of the curve if young people are to be equipped with the very latest skills.

Tomorrow’s job market will require employees who are supremely confident in fast-paced technological environments. Analytical skills, creative thinking and super-quick processing ability won’t be far behind basic literacy skills on the job interview checklist.

This week a new type of school is opening in Leeds which will re-define the relationship between employers, teachers, higher education and young people. UTC Leeds is a new school for 14-19 year olds which will provide pupils with the experience and knowledge they need to pursue careers in advanced manufacturing and engineering.

The key difference at UTC Leeds is in how the school is fostering links with industry, and the University of Leeds, to help its pupils develop the technical skills and strong ambition needed to succeed. UTC Leeds is working with more than 60 employers across the city-region.

It’s heartening to see how young people have also been inspired. We had an excellent response to our recruitment campaign in the early part of 2016. A quarter of applicants are girls. Considering women are notoriously underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields, this is great news.

Work experience is a central tenet of learning at the UTC and it is this hands-on experience at partner companies like Siemens, Agfa Graphics and Unilever which makes UTC Leeds unique.

For generations, the UK has bemoaned the state of its education system and industry has complained that productivity lags behind competitor nations. Manufacturers, meanwhile, have cited difficulty in recruiting or complained that school leavers are under-equipped for the world of work.

The new £12m UTC, adjacent to the Braime Pressings Factory on Hunslet Road, offers a solution to these challenges. Students leaving UTC Leeds will be recognised as young people with ambition to succeed. They will be the analytical, skilled, tech-driven recruits our region’s employers are seeking.

Leeds City Region already has a strong reputation for solving difficult production challenges. Two-thirds of manufacturers in our region are already specialising in advanced processes, R&D and product development.

It’s imperative that our education system produces young people capable of developing our region’s manufacturing base. Students already feel let down by the education system it seems. A survey by an apprenticeship website, which coincided with last month’s A-level results, reported that 98 per cent of 17 and 18-year-olds felt their school should put more effort into helping them get into the world of work. 

The marriage of industry and education facilitated by UTC Leeds is not only exciting but holds great promise for the region’s economic future.

I believe that a high quality education, with buy-in from the region’s biggest businesses, is the key to unlocking productivity in years to come.

The idea we don’t make anything in this country is nonsense. We manufacture quality products in the UK and we invest in our workforce.

This investment has to start in our education system.

This is a very exciting period for both education and industry across the area. Only last week manufacturing figures showed the biggest upturn in seven months. The figures are particularly pertinent given our region’s manufacturing dominance.

Regardless of one’s views on Brexit and how the UK responds to coming out of Europe, manufacturing and engineering is going to be vital to the continuing success of the UK. Being world leaders in advanced manufacturing and engineering will help maintain our global economic position.

The opportunity we have at UTC Leeds really is unique and that’s why it’s critical we develop ongoing relationships with partner companies and invite even more employers into the fold.

Only that way can we continue to deliver a curriculum which actually meets employer’s needs. Never before has our education system had such autonomy and such a tremendous opportunity to shape the future.

As term starts, the time for talking is over. Now is the time to make a difference.

Mark Kennedy is principal of UTC Leeds.

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