Case study: University Technical College Reading closes digital divide with help from Fujitsu

University Technical College Reading aims to educate and train the next generation of technicians, engineers and industrial innovators

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University Technical College (UTC) Reading opened its doors to students in September 2013. Set in the heart of the Thames Valley with large enterprises such as Fujitsu and Oracle on its doorstep, UTC Reading aims to educate and train the next generation of technicians, engineers and industrial innovators.

The college was created to deal with the massive IT skills shortage facing the UK at the moment.

“Particularly in the Reading area, there’s a huge shortage of youngsters with the IT skills required for the jobs in the area. But it isn’t just in Reading – it's a national and global issue,” says UTC Reading principal Joanne Harper.

She says the location of the college will give students the opportunity to work for the large tech companies in the vicinity, rather than leaving the area, or even moving out of the UK.

“It’s our ambition to train the next generation of industrial innovators and engineers,” she says. “You only come to UTC Reading if you’re absolutely passionate about IT or engineering.”

Preparing students for the business world

The college currently has 142 students aged 14-19, but this will rise to 600 at capacity in the coming years. It specialises in IT and engineering, but allows for a lot of cross-over between the two subjects.

Students can work towards achieving both academic and professional qualifications at UTC Reading in technical and engineering courses, including GCSE/A-Levels, vocational qualifications in specialisms and professional qualifications in Autodesk, as well as Microsoft Office specialist qualifications, Microsoft technician awards and Cisco awards.

“Initially it was thought that a high percentage would still go to university, but the more you talk to the youngsters, and the more they talk to the companies, the keener they are to go on to apprenticeships and look to companies like Fujitsu,” says Harper.

Reseller European Electronique was awarded the partnership contract with the college following a tender process, and Fujitsu was chosen as a partner due to its hardware capabilities.

Fujitsu's partnership also involves talking to the students about life at the company, giving them a taste of what it's like to work for those companies by allowing them to help out on projects.

By working closely with the college, Fujitsu is also able to look towards UTC Reading students for its graduate programme, for which it hires 70 graduates per year.

The college also trains its students in business skills to prepare them for work in the small to medium enterprise (SME) sector. “It’s just as important for the bigger companies to make sure the SMEs have got the skills,” says Harper.

She says the education sector tends to worry a lot about league tables, and less about getting people ready to go to work.

“The economy isn’t the most stable at the moment and we need to make sure the IT and engineering industry is supporting and training youngsters to make a difference for the community they live in,” she says.

Technology for learning and working life

Because the college aims to arm its students ready for working life, it intends to mirror the workplace as closely as possible. Students are all given laptops which they take around the college to each lecture, and UTC Reading has invested in high-spec industry equipment for them to use.

“We need the youngsters to see a variety of different hardware because they’re going to work for different companies,” says Harper.

It's our ambition to train the next generation of industrial innovators and engineers

Joanne Harper, University Technical College Reading

UTC Reading received specialist funding from the government to kit out the classrooms to industry standard rather than education standard. The college even has a hotdesking environment, with meeting rooms dotted around the area so students can work together on projects.

One particularly useful piece of kit provided by Fujitsu is the Esprimo Q520 PC. Its slimline design means it can be bolted on to the back of a monitor, saving space on the desk.

Harper says it is important to keep the desk space clear because of the students’ additional laptops: “In most of our classrooms you’ll see students working on a desktop, which is really tidy away behind the screen, and their laptop. We needed to make the most of that space.”

Another piece of technical equipment provided by Fujitsu is the Celsius W530 workstation, which is used in the engineering lab. These specialist workstations have the graphics capabilities and performance needed for entry-level 3D computer aided design (CAD). 

Students are currently competing in an online Formula 1 competition to design an F1 car. The Celsius W530 workstation gives them the power to view their creations in 3D.

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