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Engineering jobs for the boys AND girls is aim of Stansted Airport College

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Nationally just 3% of girls study engineering, but the Herts and Essex High School is working with the new Stansted Airport College to redress the balance.

Already, female students at the new £11m tertiary facility make up 6% of the first tech intake and Karen Spencer, the chief executive and principal of Harlow College, believes the partnership with the Warwick Road secondary and others in Bishop’s Stortford to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills will help bridge the divide.

“It’s a real challenge,” she said. “We are working with the Herts and Essex High School and are very keen to link up and provide opportunities for young women in STEM subjects.” In the new year the college will also be working with WIRe, Women in Research and Karen is involved with Catalyst, the Bishop’s Stortford Teaching School Alliance, based at the Herts and Essex.

The initiative is just one example of how the airport college aims to plug the gaps in 16-plus provision for the area’s young people and provide an alternative to sixth form and A-levels.

Although the college sits on the Essex side of the border and was funded by two separate £3.5 million grants from the county council and South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) Local Growth Fund, £600,000 from Harlow College and a £300,000 grant from Uttlesford District Council. Karen is clear that it is a much-needed resource for Herts youngsters too.

When planning the off-shoot of Harlow College, lauded by MP Robert Halfon as the best in the country and the only such institution written into Government policy, Karen and her team were acutely aware that Bishop’s Stortford is the largest town in the country without a further education facility. It was a similar situation in Uttlesford, which is home to the biggest single-site employer in the region.

Stansted Airport currently has a workforce of more than 12,000 working for more than 200 different companies and the college is the first purpose-built on-site at any major UK airport thanks to a 100-year-lease at a peppercorn rent for the one-acre site.

With 13 staff currently, it has 297 youngsters on courses – 276 full-time students and the rest are apprentices. Its capacity in the future will be 500.

Karen, originally a mathematician, said: “We started talking with local schools right at the start. They were overwhelmingly positive and talked about the gap in options for young people. That’s true of Bishop’s Stortford schools as well as those in Uttlesford. They could see there was a real benefit.”

She said staff had been overwhelmed with the interest in the launch – more than 1,000 people attended a first open evening in November 2017, and the college is likely to be fully subscribed from next September.

When full, the college will offer courses in aviation and business services, engineering and aircraft maintenance, hospitality, retail and events management.

The focus is firmly on ensuring youngsters get the skills they need to begin well-paid careers - and there is a clear emphasis on hands-on experience.

The college has a fully-functioning catering kitchen for students to learn in, a workshop kitted out with specialist engineering equipment and even a Bombardier 600 Challenger executive jet, donated by the college’s neighbour, Inflite. Other airport businesses have donated an array of equipment and accessories to the college – even the viewing room has leather aircraft seats provided by Titan Airways.

Karen said: “It’s the ideal that students will be able to work on a fully operational jet and get to grips with what they need to do to work in the industry.”

The ethos is “spaces replicating industry”. Karen said: “If we are the bridge between work or further study, then our space should not look like school. What we are trying to do is prepare young people for something different.”

The aim is to create a pool of well-prepared you people, ready for a job. The students work staggered shifts to that end and use the latest digital technology – Harlow is the first further education college in the country to be awarded Apple Distinguished School status and all youngsters can lease an iPad.

In addition to qualifications, as part of their studies they can access real work experience and live briefs from the businesses which surround the college and tap into mentoring, apprenticeships, interviews and jobs. Ryanair will be working with the team next year.

There is no shortage of support and Karen, who is working with a parliamentary group to improve training opportunities, said: “I think because of Brexit, lots of businesses are concerned are concerned about a skills shortage.”

As well as nurturing the next generation of airport employees, Karen and her team have also introduced English and maths courses open to all who need to gain a GCSE in the subject to enhance their employment prospects.

This is part of its work as the flagship of Stansted Airport’s commitment to supporting education, employment and training, alongside the Aerozone children’s education centre and dedicated on-site Stansted Employment and Skills Academy.

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