Monday, 10 October 2011

Silverstone Education - Golden Opportunity

Silverstone motor racing circuit is to house the first of a new wave of specialist university technical colleges (UTCs)’ – when I read this this morning I was at first intrigued and then inspired.

Although my job is to write and stylise words to fine tune the corporate message – my life started at Lanchester Polytechnic sponsored by Rolls Royce in Coventry.

What a wonderful opportunity Silverstone is going to provide: . Students aged 14 to 16 will combine mainstream studies – English, Maths, Science, PE  etc – with ‘technical studies’. These form 60% of their timetable. Their remaining time is focussed on specialities including high-performance engineering; motor sports; event management and hospitality.

Wow. But like all things new this has its objectors. Many no doubt reject the idea simply because it’s flag ship thinking of the Conservative Party. Others throw scorn because it’s different, radical, hybrid etc etc.

Well, frankly, it’s not that different, radical or hybrid now is it?

Before I was taught milling, grinding and metal work on the shop floor of Rolls Royce’s apprentice school, I did my A levels in a year at Henley College of Further Education (Coventry) – a Technical College.

Whilst I read Chaucer, Keynes and Sartre, their Catering Dept taught cheffing, waiting and hospitality management skills at one end, with mechanical and electrical engineering skills being honed at the other.

Late 70s Coventry understood the values of vocational education. Perhaps even the skills being shared back then were too late for the motor industry, gas turbine manufacture and chemicals processing that preceded the call centres and Council Offices, which now stand in their stead.

This is still an engineering centre with manufacturing ambition – all it needs is investment and skill. At the moment, you are more likely to get the former … but where is the skill?

Political folklore paints an over-generalised picture of a manufacturing wasteland. But these are views based on FT100 despair. We forget that UK Limited is run by SMEs.

Take Double Glazing for instance. Simon Jarman, MD of Everest told James Hurley of the Telegraph in January this year that: “…despite being the second-largest player in the windows-and-doors market by turnover, Everest has just 3% of a fragmented sector.”

At least 80% of this £1.6b industry (IBIS World) is made up of the plethora of small owner / fitter businesses like Streamline Windows, each of whom would like a little more skill from the school-leaver fitter they might hire. Multiply the same problem across the breadth of industry variants across the Midlands alone and the need is the same.

OK. Back to title. A possible downside of the Silverstone association is that every budding engineering student will want to be a Button or a Hamilton (well, a Button at least!). But what’s wrong with ambition and aspiration – nothing at all.

Take a look at Pasquale Lattinedu. Who? Just the nicest man with the best ever job in the world. Colloquially referred to as Bernie’s right hand man, Pasquale is responsible for just about everything logistical at each of the F1 meetings across the world. From Pits to Paddocks, motoring oil to cooking fat, paparazzi to pepperoni. If he hasn’t ticked the box, it just doesn’t happen. As event management goes – this is top of the pops.

So, if a young person gets the chance to learn something exciting at Silverstone UTC and you’re concerned about aimless aspiration – go talk to Pasquale.


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