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Building a better higher education system

To attract fresh talent to the industry, many in the sector have worked to remove any barriers that might hinder young people from considering a career in construction or engineering.

The one sector whose methods of encouraging the younger generation have not changed or been modernised in recent years is the higher education sector, which is why I was intrigued by the New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMiTE) University in Hereford.

This 21st-century university claims to have radicalised the engineering degree curriculum by focusing primarily on practical learning, rather than traditional theory-based learning.

By removing lectures entirely and replacing them with project work designed to tackle relevant industry challenges, as well as self-study sessions, its courses aim to prepare students for real-life work within the course’s three-year timeframe, compared with the standard four-and-a-half years.

In a bid to encourage more students to pursue a career in engineering, applicants won’t be required to have A-levels in mathematics or science, but must encompass “creativity, design and innovation – the distilled quintessence of engineering”.

While the proposed teaching methods are a significant change from the traditional system, it could provide the answer to battling our growing skills gap.

Uneducated perception

In a recent survey commissioned by industry promotion body Construction United, where we asked 2,000 members of the British public what they thought of the construction industry: 67 per cent said they would never consider a career in the industry. Unfortunately, while this wasn’t the response we were hoping for, it didn’t come as a surprise.

”Making degree courses more inclusive, as well as giving students the ability to do more practical, hands-on work could encourage more school leavers to consider undertaking a degree in construction or engineering”

There is still a perception that construction is an industry predominantly consisting of labour-intensive careers for men in high-visibility jacket and hard hats.

The survey also found that 41 per cent of the public think construction is the least likely sector to require higher or further education. These perceptions couldn’t be any further from the truth, which is why the proposed teaching methods at NMiTE could provide the industry with an answer to some of its problems.

What we can learn right now

The skills gap – in both engineering and construction – continues to grow, and despite conscious efforts from those within the industry to speed up the recruiting process, we’re still not meeting the skills deficit.

Although there are still two more years to go before admissions open for NMiTE’s prospective students, there are a number of things the rest of the construction and engineering-focused higher education institutions could learn from this new university.

Making degree courses more inclusive, as well as giving students the ability to do more practical, hands-on work, could not only ensure students are ready for work as soon as they’ve graduated, but it could also encourage more school-leavers to consider undertaking a degree in construction or engineering.

Mark Tomlin is group director at SIG, headline sponsor of Construction United

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