Earlier this week I was at Rolls Royce in Derby with the Prime Minister’s Talent and Enterprise Taskforce, for the launch of FutureStory for Derby and the East Midlands. The engineering heritage struck me the moment I entered Derby. As I was on the way to Rolls Royce in the bright yellow Derby taxi, we passed Bombardier – another major manufacturer in the area.
Derby was particularly interesting because of this engineering focus. Not only does it mean that the young people in the region can see companies at the end of their street operating in a global market, but those companies are very closely connected to the schools. There is even one school within the grounds of the huge Rolls Royce campus and naturally they have a great relationship.
The FutureStory website has some really exciting key facts about Derby, including:
• Derby, Leicester and Nottingham are the economic ‘motors’ of the East Midlands – with half the regional population and 45% of the region’s businesses.
• Over the last 25 years manufacturing jobs in the East Midlands have fallen by 40% to 300,000 – and service jobs have risen 86% to almost 1.5 million
• Of the 39,000 Rolls-Royce employees today, 40% are outside the UK
• The East Midlands is Europe’s densest cluster of rail engineering companies – with over230 companies around Derby alone
• Since opening in 1992, Toyota has invested over £1 billion pounds in Burnaston, and has produced nearly 3 million cars in Derby – most for export around the world
• Around 15,000 people in Nottingham work in creative jobs – and the city has around 3,700 students in creative arts and communications
• 25,000 students study at Derby College, which offers special training programmes to almost 1,000 employers across the East Midlands, training over 11,000 employees every year
I don’t think there is another region I have seen during the various FutureStory visits around the UK, where there is such a strong focus on a single type of industry – and one of the things we heard at the event was that Rolls Royce alone employs about 1 in 10 people in Derby. Now add in the other major engineering firms in the area and you have an entire region consumed by engineering.
But engineering is often seen as dirty, nasty, and smelly; an old-fashioned career choice, and certainly not something for girls to consider ever doing. But as I toured the Rolls Royce facility before the event started, and saw the sheer scale of their contribution to the world of aviation I wondered why my own design and technology teachers had never had the vision to show me a Concorde Olympus engine.
When I was at school, Craft, Design and Technology (CDT as we called it) was all about knocking nails in lumps of wood and learning how to use a lathe. None of us could see any practical career that might come from studying this in any more depth. If I had been taken to Rolls Royce when I was younger, and if I could have connected together the studies at school with engine design for a major firm that exports across the world, then perhaps I wouldn’t have ended up writing about technology.
And that’s really the aim of FutureStory. Companies across Britain are globalising – working in partnership with foreign firms, exporting to new markets. They are at the cutting edge of how the new economy works, because they have to compete or die. Phil Hope MP, the Minister for the East Midlands explains it well in this short video. Schools are just there. And teachers are often the primary source of career advice to young people, unless they have switched on parents or guardians who can also guide them – but not every young person is so lucky.
We need local industries to connect to schools so a virtuous circle can be created. The young people understand the world of work better than they would have done without any exposure to companies. The companies will find more employable young people if they can influence the teachers and schools by building local relationships and demonstrating what is really happening in the world or work today.
I saw a Rolls Royce Merlin I engine at Derby. When I was a kid I used to read comic books that talked about that engine all the time – because of the war stories I was reading, featuring Spitfires and Hurricanes. Imagine if a teacher had captured my imagination back then and foreseen that being able to identify which plane uses which engine could lead to a career in engineering, instead of just being time wasted with my head in comics?