November 2022

Budding fighter jet technician flies the flag for female engineers 

By Melanie Hall

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A Birmingham student whose goal is to become an air technician with the Royal Navy flew the flag for female engineers at the official opening of University College Birmingham’s new engineering and digital training facilities.

Precious Gagu Mowo, whose great-grandparents were both in the British Army, was charged with demonstrating hi-tech robotics in the labs to show employers and key stakeholders the future of engineering to aid regional manufacturing growth.

The 18-year-old has just started her Level 3 Engineering college course at Camden House, with new facilities where students can learn everything from advanced robotics for hi-tech components for manufacturing to cyber security.

"A lack of access to talent and future skills is a concern for all in the manufacturing industry, and I congratulate University College Birmingham for helping to address that"

Allan Cook CBE Chair of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult

“For a long while, I’ve wanted to be an air technician in the Navy, working on fighter jets, helicopters and air carriers,” said Precious, who attended John Wall Catholic School in Handsworth and whose family are originally from Zimbabwe.  

“I studied engineering at school and public services at college, but then decided to go for it and do a course which will provide a route to my dream career. The facilities here are great and I am getting to work on pneumatics and air compressors that are similar to what I will be working on in my job.”

The new multi-million pound facilities at the refurbished Camden House campus building in Birmingham city centre were unveiled at a launch event this month.

Around 300 students have already been welcomed onto the new engineering and digital courses at University College Birmingham, developing skills that will help close the region’s skills gap and meet the levelling-up agenda.

Precious demonstrated the robotics equipment at the launch of the engineering facilities in Camden House

Michael Coleman, project lead for developing the facilities, said the robotics labs were designed to mimic a real factory production line – from start to finish. 

“Students learn how to precisely code hydraulics and pneumatics across the robotics labs, effectively getting them to talk to each other to create components for everything from mobile phones to electric cars for the future,” he said.

“Our courses are designed with employers and in such a way that our students can go straight into a career as a production engineer with the likes of BMW or Siemens when they finish. Or, uniquely, they can go from a Level 3 to higher education with us, regardless of background, and on to top jobs in the field.”

Allan Cook CBE DSc, chair of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult – which works with industry, academia and government to help businesses of all sizes improve their competitiveness through innovation – attended the event.

He said: "I was very impressed by the new facilities and the breadth of the technologies covered. A lack of access to talent and future skills is a concern for all in the manufacturing industry, and I congratulate University College Birmingham for helping to address that.

“Opportunities to connect tomorrow’s workforce with emerging technologies is vital for the UK to become an industrial superpower. To have the new training ground on the doorstep of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult’s headquarters is particularly welcome. Skills is an area of focus for us and seeing growth in prospects at a local level is great for the region.”

In pictures: Camden House engineering facilities launch

Engineering student Harry Horton demonstrating robotics at the launch event

Confidence and support

Other students demonstrating the robotics at the launch event included 17-year-old student Harry Horton, who previously attended Four Dwellings Academy in Quinton, Birmingham.

“I have gained lots of confidence since starting at college, and showing what the robotics could do was great,” said Harry, who is also studying Level 3 Engineering.

“I chose to do engineering as I have always had a passion for knowing how things work and applied here because of the facilities, but also the tutors, who were really supportive and told me about all the links with employers and industry.

“I’ve also had additional support from the college’s academic support workers to help me adapt to college life.

“In the future, I would like to gain employment and experience by getting an apprenticeship and, ultimately, start my own business in the engineering sector.”

Camden House will be home to over 20 engineering and computing labs across three floors.

New sustainable construction facilities

Complementing the engineering and digital curriculum, University College Birmingham is also building its new Sustainable Construction Centre at the former James Cond print works just around the corner from Camden House.

Opening in September 2023, it will specialise in college courses and degrees that support the region’s growth areas, including sustainable construction methods, manufacturing technologies and renewable energy.

Described by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, as a “fantastic investment”, the centre will critically help train people in the skills that employers need, helping meet the Mayor’s 100,000 jobs plan.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Michael Harkin said: “First and foremost, it is firmly about supporting young people and the long-term unemployed to gain industry-relevant skills, to support them into work and further study, and to gain critical skills to access high value jobs that meet local and regional needs.”

The School of Engineering, Digital and Sustainable Construction offers courses that will continue to develop, from Level 2 and T-levels through to degree courses and apprenticeships, working closely with local employers to fill skills gaps and offer training in priority areas for the West Midlands.

Discover our full range of courses within these areas, whether you are a school-leaver, a mature student looking to get into a new career or are ready to choose a university undergraduate or postgraduate degree or apprenticeship.

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