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Dyson Institute: planning out of the EU

13 December 2016

Baroness Verma, then junior energy minister, meets apprentices at National Grid's Academy at Eakring during National Apprenticeship Week 2015. Photo DECC (CC BY-ND 2.0)

At the beginning of November Sir James Dyson announced that he intends to establish an Institute of Technology at the Dyson research complex in Malmesbury in 2017. This is a positive initiative, but it raises significant questions for our class. We must become the front runners in preparing for life after Brexit; it’s not enough to leave the future of Britain to others.

Dyson has long promoted the prospect of training young engineers in this country. Although the company mainly manufactures vacuum cleaners, fans and other appliances abroad, it designs them in Britain. It employs research engineers from over 30 countries. However, the founder and owner has always been an advocate of improving vocational education here so that sufficient engineers with the requisite knowledge and skills could once again be present in Britain.

‘Britain needs an improved skills base to flourish outside the EU.’

A long-time opponent of the stifling embrace of the European Union, Dyson with others such as Sir Michael Wilshaw, retiring Chief Inspector of Ofsted, has indicated that Britain needs an improved skills base to flourish outside the EU. A renewed investment in and encouragement of vocational education to rejuvenate industry will be vital to Britain in the future.

Future needs

Where are our working class organisations in all of this? The Unite union called for a new “eco-system” apprenticeships scheme. Apparently this is a system similar to the way apprenticeships work in Germany. But that was in March 2013 and there’s been little since.

The NUT representing teachers rejects what it regards as early specialisation. It also rejects the University 14-19 colleges proposed by Wilshaw and former education minister Kenneth Baker. And it doesn't seem to want anything like the German system of apprenticeships.

The GMB union has established the “Young Workers Engagement Project”. Thus aims to secure new, quality apprenticeship schemes; expansion and improvements in existing schemes and working partnerships with preferred training partners.

This hardly amounts to a coherent response to the needs of young people and, for that matter, the future needs of the country. The forceful move to create a new independent future inherent in the Leave vote needs to be matched by initiative and ideas to achieve that in practice.

Germany, China and South Korea seem to have the most coherent and well thought out apprentice schemes and education. Perhaps that's because industry is still regarded as important for the future in each of those countries?

Greater focus

On 8 July, shortly after the referendum, the government published its response the recommendations of the Independent Panel on Technical Education, its Post-16 skills plan, which will start to take effect from 2019. Broadly this will mean specialisation into technical or academic education, but with a greater focus on the outcome for each route, rather than the present mix of academic and vocational qualifications

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the report’s recommendation as “a real roadmap to the high-skill workforce the UK needs” and called on the government not to delay implementation, O’Grady and rightly pointed out that improving workers’ skills is vital for the future and that needs investment.

That’s not a bad start, but there is plenty more to do.