Regional electronics companies unite in Cambridge to attract local school students to industry

UKESF030_Go4set1.ovCambridge is to host a launch event for a nationwide scheme designed to attract young talent to the economically-vital electronics industry.

The UK electronic systems industry is worth £78 billion ($130bn) and employs 850,000 people in well-paid, skilled jobs. It is predicted to grow by 55% by 2020 and has a hub in Cambridge, with world leading firms including ARM, CSR, and Plastic Logic based in the area.

But, a decreased awareness of the industry among British school students is putting this growth at risk, with applications for higher education courses in electronic engineering down 29% since 2002.

To counter this, the UK Electronics Skills Foundation has teamed up with leading education charity the Engineering Development Trust (EDT) on its Go4SET programme and with some of the region’s top firms to create an east-of-England competition for school students aged 12-14. These challenges aim to stimulate interest in and raise awareness of electronic engineering as an exciting subject and rewarding career path.

Entitled “Our Electronics Environment”, the 10-week Go4SET project will demonstrate the relevance of pursuing science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects to careers in electronics.

Each participating team of six students with a teacher will be sponsored by a company and united with an industry mentor to help empower the students to broaden their skills, develop analytical thinking and make informed decisions on future career and study options.

Wendy Daniell, UKESF programme director said: “Our partnership with EDT is invaluable to the success of this project and uses a proven formula to engage with young students. It builds on both an established schools’ programme run by EDT and a successful pilot of the project run last year.

“This event in Cambridge is the start of the nationwide roll-out of the project, and we’re looking to partner with local firms in each region to reach even more students.”

The pilot took place in Bristol and saw teams design electronic netball bibs that change lettering automatically; futuristic ways of watching films; holographic shopping assistants; and smart watches.

Indro Mukerjee, CEO of Plastic Logic and UKESF chairman said: “The UK is currently a global leader in the electronics sector and the products we design and manufacture are used in many of the world’s leading brands, including smartphones, tablets and games consoles.

“For this success to continue we need, as an industry, to reach out to young minds and inspire them from an early age to learn more about the industry and the exciting and varied careers it can offer.”

CSR’s VP of platform hardware design, Nick Salter, who contributed to the development of the Bristol pilot, said: “We are sponsoring three teams in the east of England challenge. Like many leading technology firms based here, we recognise our shared responsibility in nurturing the next generation of talented engineers so that we can remain at the forefront of our industry.

But this isn’t the only benefit we see from getting involved. It also provides opportunities for our engineers to further their communication and project management skills through team mentoring. Sponsoring this project is a win-win for us, and I’d strongly recommend it to other employers.”

Despite UCAS data showing a significant rise in demand for engineering and technology courses since 2002, there was a 29 per cent drop in British applicants to electronics engineering courses between 2002 and 2012. The gender gap is also significant with females typically making up less than 8 per cent (1 in 12) of applicants.

The Go4SET scheme is designed to raise awareness among younger students in a way that appeals to both males and females and the pilot project saw four mixed teams, four girls-only teams and two boys-only teams.