North East businesses celebrated for championing science skills

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
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 and Mathematics) skills gaps and how this has paid dividends to their business and the local economy.

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.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

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.

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

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. 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.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

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.

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." 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.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

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.

“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.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“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 UK and Ireland.”

e has the highest skilled workforce in the North, one of the fastest growing economies and job growth rates in England, yet also grapples with consistently higher unemployment and lower productivity than the national average. Over the past decade, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership [North East LEP] has been leading on efforts to bolster the North East’s economy through reducing skills shortages and increasing economic activity and productivity.

More about the linking curriculum to the world of work project here: Curriculum Led Employer Engagement: Case Studies - North East Ambition

ABS Precision Engineering

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

ABS Precision Engineering is an SME (small or medium enterprise) manufacturing company, with a 20,000 square foot engineering facility offering a range of advanced machinery services including Computer Numerical Control turning and milling, and Wire Electrical Discharge enabled machining. With 42 highly skilled staff working in shift patterns around the clock. Since ABS Precision were founded 20 years ago, they have employed 18 apprentices, 17 of which still work at the company.

The physics of precision engineering

Computer numerical control (CNC) turning is a type of precision engineering that uses physics concepts such as angular motion (how an object moves around a fixed point), deformation (the way objects change shape due to application of forces) and resonance (the effects of vibrations). It involves the use of computer-controlled machines to create shafts, bolts, and other cylinder-shaped parts for machinery, that must be precisely shaped to move and withstand pressure and vibration.

Solving Skills One Year On: Partnerships powering apprenticeships

Solving Skills One Year On: Partnerships powering apprenticeships is available here.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The 2023 IOP report Solving Skills: Powering growth through physics-related apprenticeships summary is available here.

The Institute of Physics (IOP) worked with Shift Insight to scope the physics-related apprenticeship landscape in the UK and Ireland.

Definition of physics-powered broadly describes sectors or organisations that are underpinned by physics as an enabling discipline, including education and research. This encompasses engineering, manufacturing, and green energy, including sub-sectors using cutting edge physics-derived technology such as quantum, nuclear and aerospace. Furthermore, whilst we do employ formal analytical methodologies to define physics skills as they relate to knowledge requirements and specific occupational pathways, physics underpins many education and career pathways.

Physics-related apprenticeships broadly refer to apprenticeships for which physics or physics-related knowledge is a component of the curriculum, or their on-the-job experience in a physics-powered organisation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A total of 96 in-depth interviews were conducted with employers (39) providers (32) and stakeholders (25) representing the engineering, construction, manufacturing, science and medical sectors between June and September 2022. An online survey was disseminated to apprentices through multiple channels including the employers and training providers taking part in the qualitative interviews between July and October 2022 with 292 responses.