FORMER Education Secretary Kenneth Baker came to Wearside to unveil a vision for a generation of industry-led schools, devoted to nurturing future scientists and engineers across the North East.
Lord Baker met with 60 regional business leaders at RTC North’s offices in Sunderland, to outline the economic benefits of establishing University Technical Colleges (UTCs) in the region.
Government-funded UTCs teach 14 to 18-year-old students the advanced technical skills they will need to become a new generation of engineers, technicians, scientists and inventors.
Backed by local employers and universities, children combine academic education with technical specialism in areas such as engineering, IT, life sciences and manufacturing.
There are 17 UTCs nationwide and another 33 have been approved – but none in the North East.
Lord Baker said: “The North East is a crucial economic area for the country and UTCs are an opportunity to ensure that the skills needed for the future are available locally.
“Fundamental to any UTC is the close involvement of employers, which is why I welcome this opportunity to meet with businesses from across the region, to plan how more UTCs can open in the North East.”
Lord Baker – who launched Regional Technology Centres in 1989 – also unveiled a plaque to mark RTC North’s 25th year at its Hylton Park Road base.
It is the only one of the 12 regional technology centres still in existence.
The centre is thriving in its role, supporting North East companies through all stages of innovation, and helping them to turn their ideas into commercial reality, with its team of 50 specialist staff.
RTC North CEO, Gordon Ollivere MBE, said the UK was falling behind its European competitors in training youngsters for a career in industry.
He said: “Technological education in Germany, for instance, is far superior to how it is here. People have a better understanding of how technology works.
“Finding young people with the drive and ambition to take up careers in science, engineering and technology, remains a major problem for employers in this region.
“There is a need to prepare young people for the world of work in a more formal way than we do at the moment.
“I would welcome any initiative that helps foster an interest in local industry, and the exciting careers that are open to young people on their doorstep.
Bob Paton, RTC North’s non-executive chairman, said: “UTCs are a valuable addition to the education of young people whose talents we need to nurture.”