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UTCs Training a New Generation

by Nick Crew, Executive Principal of UTC Sheffield

There is a critical shortage of young people with the high-level science and technology skills that employers need. University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are a new type of non-selective state-funded school, training the next generation of Britain’s creatives, designers, scientists, engineers and technicians to address that challenge. UTCs provide 14 to 19-year-olds with the opportunity to study technical subjects alongside the core curriculum. The UTC approach enables students to develop high-level technical skills that will help them thrive in a challenging economy and fast-paced world

So far, 48 UTCs have opened nationally. UTC Sheffield was the first to open in Yorkshire and has expanded with the recent opening of a second campus. Our City Centre campus specialises in advanced engineering and manufacturing, and the creative and digital industries, and opened in September 2013. Our newly-opened Olympic Legacy Park campus launched in September 2016, and specialises in health and sports science, and computing. Our sponsors are The Sheffield College, Sheffield Hallam University and Sheffield Chamber of Commerce. Around 50 employers support us including Rolls-Royce, Festo Engineering, Siemens Plc, Performance Engineered Solutions, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Warp, Sumo Digital, Can Studios and The Workshop Creative Consultancy.

Young people can join us at the age of 14 or 16. Students complete a technical qualification as well as traditional GCSEs and A Levels. They work on projects set by employers. We operate differently to a traditional school because our buildings, facilities and curriculum have been designed with employers from the outset and reflect the skills needs of our region. Employers are at the heart of everything we do. They are represented on our governing body. They set curriculum projects, mentor our students, and provide work experience and placements. Our technical results this summer showed a 100 per cent pass rate for creative and digital and 96 per cent for engineering.

Employers want young people with problem solving and team working skills. The young people who study with us have a keen interest in applying theory to solving technical challenges, which provides them with a distinct advantage when applying for university or joining the labour market. Employers benefit from sourcing and retaining local talent, rather than losing it to other cities, which helps the economy.

Our campuses are fitted with the latest industry standard equipment.  Our creative and digital students learn about graphic design, broadcasting, film, television and photography as well as journalism and develop their skills in industry standard Mac suites, television and sound studios, and with the latest software. The curriculum is delivered with top employers including Sumo Digital and Warp Films to ensure young people get the skills that will help them go onto apprenticeships, university and careers in film, photography, graphics, animation, broadcasting, radio and television.

Recent examples of innovative curriculum assignments include a virtual reality technology project to trial the design of prosthetic limbs for amputees, with one of our sponsors Sheffield Hallam University. Both our creative and digital, and advanced engineering students developed designs to be tested in a virtual world. The project involved developing a system that could test the designs of prosthetic upper arm limbs for amputees.  Using technology including Oculus Rift - a headset that allows the wearer to feel as though they are in a virtual reality world – the students had to test the effectiveness of their designs. The tests included simulating activities such as picking up a cereal packet, coin or bottle in a virtual kitchen.

Our engineering and manufacturing facilities include mini-factories that simulate the real manufacturing environment.  Winning Gold, Silver and Bronze in WorldSkills last year for mechatronics and industrial control, our students are already demonstrating that access to high specification specialist equipment, and being mentored by employers, has rapidly increased their skill level, communication skills and an ability to work under pressure and as part of a team.

Likewise, at our newly opened Olympic Legacy Park campus, students study in the latest industry standard computer labs including Raspberry Pi and robotics equipment; and a research laboratory for virtual reality technology. The computing specialism links to careers as a cyber-security analyst, web developer, computer programmer and games developer.

The campus also has a sports science laboratory including a Batak Pro machine that tests athletes’ reaction times and reflexes and develops hand and eye coordination, and a Monark rehabilitation trainer used by injured and disabled sports people to develop cardiovascular fitness; a fitness suite with the latest cycling, running, rowing and weights machines; and a health and development suite which includes a flexible hospital ward set-up and area for an ambulance. The sports science specialism leads to careers as an elite athlete and becoming a sports scientist or personal trainer. The health science specialism leads to careers in medicine, dentistry, veterinary, pharmacy, physiotherapy, nursing and midwifery and becoming a paramedic.

This approach is working. The Annual UTC Student Survey 2016 from the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which supports UTCs, shows that 92 per cent of our students found talks from employers were the most helpful source of information in planning their careers. Furthermore, 89 per cent of students are confident of getting a job suited to their skills when they have finished their studies. This year, Ofsted graded UTC Sheffield as ‘good’. Inspectors noted that we have established a business-like culture and technical curriculum closely aligned to the needs of employers and universities. Students develop good industry skills on highly effective study programmes that increase their chances of securing employment and apprenticeships in the region. We are continuing to build on this success thanks to our employer support.


Baker Dearing Educational Trust

Susan Higgins

4 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA

07867 502515

[email protected]