UTCs aim to give teenagers the technical expertise they need for apprenticeships

Richard Garner hears about plans for a ground-breaking new college.

Bill Williams is nothing if not honest. "I wasn't a very good engineer," he admits. Now, as a result of the plans he has drawn up for a new University Technical College in east London, he is hopeful that the next generation of youngsters will at least be given the opportunity to train to overcome that hurdle.

University Technical Colleges (UTCs) are a new breed of school-cum-college concentrating on providing 14- to 19-year-olds with the kind of technical expertise they will need to take advantage of apprenticeships in tomorrow's world. In some cases, they may even go on to higher education.

Mr Williams is head of the Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence (CEME) in Dagenham, a charity launched in 2003 that provides training opportunities for a vast array of businesses and employers from the local area. The local AA uses it to train its operatives to repair new makes of cars, and Ford, one of the biggest employers in the neighbourhood, sends its employees to be trained there.

"Around 3,000 kids from around here – from local schools – have come to our engineering centre," says Mr Williams.

Dagenham seems an ideal location for a new UTC – the breed of educational establishments being championed by former Education Secretary Kenneth (now Lord) Baker as the answer to the UK's appalling record in training youngsters for a vocational future.

The plan is to focus on engineering and provide 650 places within five years. Depending on the swiftness of the Government's education programme, the UTC will either open in September 2013 or 2014. Most of the youngsters will come from the Havering or Barking and the Dagenham area, although the neighbouring borough of Newham, one of the most deprived in the country, has also been in touch, anxious that its youngsters should not miss out.

The UTC has impressive sponsors lined up to back the project: Ford, obviously, who take on 40 to 60 apprentices a year locally; Network Rail, who need trained personnel for years to come to develop the Crossrail links; and the Prospect Learning Foundation, a charity that runs a similar school-cum-college in Southend, Essex, and has the links with small firms that will be essential to the proposed UTC. It will be called the East London University Technical College, or Elutec.

CEME is also planning to build an 80-bedroomed hotel on its site, which can be used, if the UTC project gets the go-ahead, to train youngsters for the catering and leisure industry.

In addition, CEME is in partnership with University College London – a member of the Russell Group of universities, which represents 24 of the country's most research-intensive higher education institutions. And through UCL's links with Loughborough University, CEME has another important link. "It's not because they [UCL] want the students," says Mr Williams, "because they are already oversubscribed and recruit heavily from overseas." It is, he believes, because the head of UCL's engineering department, Professor Anthony Finkelstein, did an apprenticeship in east London himself and has a passion for the project.

UCL will offer bursaries to the brightest and most talented students to emerge from Elutec to go on and study with them. The ethos at the college will be very different to that of a secondary school. It will operate from 8.30am until 5pm. Pupils will wear business suits while they are in the classroom and change into practical clothing when they are in the workshop.

"As a result of the extra hours, they will get an extra year's learning here compared to the average secondary school," says Mr Williams.

In addition, they will not have to do any homework – there will be time enough to factor in extra work outside classroom teaching within school hours, mirroring the kind of experience the youngsters will face when they enter the world of employment.

Mr Williams is in no doubt of the need for UTCs. Schools, he believes, cannot offer youngsters the kind of hands-on experience of engineering that they will need once they leave full-time education. As a result, universities are having to lay on practical guidance for students who start studying engineering with them, who may not have even come into contact with a lathe before.

Some firms are having to scrap expansion plans because they cannot recruit enough trained staff to carry them out. "There are more engineers graduating in India every year for the last eight years than in the whole of Europe," Mr Williams says.

"We'd like to train people who will know how to behave in an engineering workshop and how to behave in a manufacturing environment. We can teach them to weld and we can train them for most businesses – what they can't do in schools because they haven't got the time and patience to work with pupils who haven't got the right attitude."

Mr Williams believes the project may receive a boost from the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, chose a factory just down the road – in Basildon, Essex – for the relaunch of the Coalition earlier this month. During their press briefing, they stressed how important the setting up of new apprenticeships would be to solving the country's current unemployment crisis.

Mr Williams' thinking is this: how could the Government possibly turn down a bid supported by leading employers like Ford and Network Rail, as well as a Russell Group university, just a few miles away from where its leaders seemed to be saying their recipe for learning was the key to future success.

So far the UTC project is in its infancy – 18 UTCs have been approved by the Government, not all of which are up and running. Ministers have committed themselves to opening 24 and a decision on the next tranche is expected by the end of month.

Then Mr Williams will find out if the galaxy of sponsors assembled in east London proves irresistible.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

Science Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Sc...


£120 - £131 per day: Randstad Education Group: The role will involve teaching...

Drama & Media Studies Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Dr...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice