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The ESCO initiative – Does June’s ESCO report place enough emphasis on education?

Posted by Alex Perryman on 3rd September 2013

We recently blogged on the importance of the recently-launched ESCO initiative. This body, which released a large manifesto-style report recently, was formed by a group of prominent industry players to ensure that the UK’s strong electronics systems sector remained at the forefront of national concerns by fostering a programme of closer co-operation between government, industry and academia.

electI felt the report somewhat underplayed the UK’s shortcomings in the areas of primary and secondary education, (at least as far as the production of engineers and mathematicians is concerned). We’re simply not generating enough of them.

In fact, it’s very telling that on the first page of the report, (indeed, before you even get that far – on the pull-out infographic précis of the report’s findings attached to the front cover), one of the report’s primary tactics in ‘developing smart skills’ is to ‘refine migration policy support needs of UK electronics’.

The UK electronics systems industry would be nowhere without sensible immigration policy plugging vital skills gaps. However this, and the other ‘smart skills’ tactics listed on the front page, (developing the role of the UK Electronics Skills Foundation, increasing the range of available craft and student apprenticeships, prioritising postgrad skills’), all seem to relate to University of postgrad-level workers. In other words, in achieving its short-term aims by 2020, the emphasis of the report arguably prioritises short-term solutions, while largely ignoring some of the longer-term ones.

This all feels a little ‘sticking-plaster’: How does this address the lack of interest amongst tomorrow’s engineers in, (particularly), mathematics? What about possibilities such as establishing electronics, programming and IT as a dedicated GCSE-level subject in all secondary schools?

Admittedly, the report does actually get onto the subject of secondary education later on, (albeit while still giving much more space to discussing postgrad education). It mentions the 47% decline in UK entrants to Electrical and Electronic Engineering degrees between 2002 and 2012. It mentions, (relatively briefly), the need to ‘connect employers with schools and universities’, establish ‘residential summer schools for 80 year 12 students’ in electronic engineering, and develop a schools project.

All very admirable, but in terms of improving skills, these STEM-esque tactics take up about a quarter of the overall suggestions listed.

So while it would be unfair to say the ESCO initiative does not have a plan for secondary-level pupils, I would argue that it should be doing more to spell out its plans for school-level education; (the root-and-branch cause of many of the UK’s issues regarding the electronics systems industry, and potentially a dark cloud on its horizon).

I’m sure a more fleshed-out solution is coming. On the whole, we have faith in the ESCO initiative. God is, however, in the details. If ESCO could just flesh out the details of its schools projects, and begin a concerted programme that engages with children from a young age, I think I, and everyone else in the electronics and technology PR space, will get wholeheartedly behind it.

Photo courtesy of Tim simpson1

Alex Perryman

Alex joined Wildfire in 2007. He is renowned for his ability to pick up complex technologies and new industries extremely quickly.