Wednesday, January 25, 2017

News: Invest in people as part of industrial strategy

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Professor Sir Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor and president at The University of Sheffield has used a column in a national publication to highlight that the investment made locally in developing the next generation of engineers is just as important as investing in land or equipment.

Based on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) in Rotherham, the University's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is a world-class centre for advanced machining and materials research for aerospace and other high-value sectors.

In a comment piece for Times Higher Education, Burnett discusses the AMRC Training Centre where 600 apprentices are making use of the state of the art facilities in Rotherham.

Sir Keith, who trained as an experimental physicist at Oxford, talked about the Government setting out a new industrial strategy and the national shortage of apprentices and engineers. He discussed how too often the two are separated as those who sit behind a desk and those that get their hands dirty - but not at The AMRC where they are one and the same.

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He told the magazine: "As well as our graduate engineers we needed more technicians for the very latest kit and so we trained some of our own specialist apprentices. These apprentices were privileged. They were soaking up the processes that would be needed in the future of manufacturing and so we found we were training just the sort of people that our industry partners also wanted. They asked us not just for research but for some of these wonderful people. In fact, they would pay us to train the youngsters they would employ.

"It was a new route for us or for any university like ours, but our home is in a place once known globally for the quality of its skilled trades, so we decided to train a much larger cohort. We set about building a training centre with the Government support and a new chapter opened.

"One of the most important things in education at any level is that a trainee should be able to progress from the more straightforward to the more complex throughout their course. Students are be able to start with the things we can first teach in the laboratory and workshop and progress to making computer models of the manufacturing processes they are working on, all the time building with it the conceptual understanding of what they are learning and why it matters: hand (literal or mechanical) and mind united.

"And now we have nearly six hundred apprentices who are doing just that."

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Since taking on its first 140 apprentices in autumn 2013, the £20.5m Training Centre has grown rapidly into an award-winning centre of excellence. Apprentices have opportunities to progress on to postgraduate courses, doctorates and MBA levels. Sponsoring companies range from global leaders such as Rolls-Royce and Tata Steel to local high-tech supply-chain companies.

Burnett added: "The initial response to our work speaks volumes for British culture. Instead of applause I was first asked, why is a University like Sheffield getting involved with this low-level stuff?

"But people then saw us take student apprentices from the estates of Sheffield and Rotherham and train them in the finest manufacturing centre in the world. They saw the enthusiastic response of local firms to these young people who could transform their productivity. The director of global manufacturing at Rolls-Royce described these wholly educated young people as "a new kind of engineer." People changed their minds and became our supporters."

AMRC Training Centre website

Images: AMRC


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