McLaren in pole position to sell engineering to pupils

Five head teachers and four careers advisers from Surrey skipped school last week to take to the race-track.

They weren't strike-busting or playing truant but on a visit to McLaren Technology Centre in Woking as part of the Government's See Inside Manufacturing campaign.

The teachers were there to see the finishing touches made to McLaren's high-performance MP4-12C sports car – which is to be launched next month – and to hear the engineers talk about why they chose engineering as a career.

Leading the tour was Ron Dennis, McLaren's founder and chairman, who opened the doors to his factory because he's so worried about the skills shortage in the UK for young engineers and technical staff after two decades of manufacturing decline. Having created McLaren's Formula One team, Dennis knows one of the best ways to sell engineering is to show teachers first-hand how exciting engineering is, so that they can go back equipped to talk to their pupils and show that it's not "boring".

Quite the reverse – one of his engineers told the story of how travelling the world with the team's racing drivers meant that last year he'd spent only a few weeks in the UK.

More than 100 other teachers and careers advisers were also out and about in the country last week visiting 35 car and automotive factories as part of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills initiative to push engineering and manufacturing as a career option.

The visits were spear-headed by the Automotive Council and were a pilot for a much bigger campaign, to be launched in October, when the Government will work with other sectors of industry to open up plants and factories for national open days – for children and teachers alike.

As Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said last week between visits to Mini's Oxford factory and a catalytic converter factory in Royston, the onus is on industry and government to show teachers and pupils just how many exciting careers there are in industry – and to inspire them. He added: "We also need to ensure that UK manufacturing can take on its competitors head on and make the next decade one of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial periods in our history."

Mr Cable said the campaign will also include increased investment in apprenticeships, a new national prize for engineering, and new all-age national careers advice.

At Woking, the teachers were shown the new state of the art £40m production centre, where the £168,000 MP4 will be built. McLaren, which employs 1,300 people at Woking, hopes to employ another 300 engineers and specialists when the car goes into full-scale production.

As well as showing opportunities to teachers and pupils, the Government hopes to encourage youngsters into more work placements. It seems to be working already – within hours of the Woking visit, one of the head teachers called McLaren back to say he'd sown the seeds of an engineering competition with the promise of a trip to McLaren for the winner. Apparently, his Year 10 pupils are already getting to work.

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