Building a bridge between academia and industry

11th May 2017
Posted By : Joe Bush
Building a bridge between academia and industry

Due to the success of one of its young engineers, Icon Aerospace Technology is continuing to forge strong links with academia to build a talent bridge. Sara Killelay joined the business back in September 2016 as a graduate equipped with a degree in product design, seemingly worlds apart from the polymer composites that Icon manufactures.

However, through the course Killelay developed extensive Computer Aided Design (CAD) skills, which were quickly put to work, drawing attention to her potential. After just 12 weeks the budding young engineer was made responsible for developing and implementing the company’s CNC fabric cutting process to ensure repeatability of parts manufactured, following around a £100,000 investment into new machinery. Recognising Killelay’s potential, Icon invested in specialist training, which has enabled her to unlock her potential and transform the company’s new part development process.

Today, Killelay operates in a team of 11 people, working on more than 20 parts each month to ensure they are CNC compliant. These parts are supplied to major aerospace OEMs including Airbus and Rolls-Royce, representing the company’s most prestigious client base. Impressively, Killelay is now building a career utilising all her skills, demonstrating the opportunities that exist to all parties if employers harness the innovation and energy of many of our graduates and apprentices.

Icon Aerospace Technology is also playing a key role in the development of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), working closely with establishments such as the University of Derby, to facilitate an exchange of information and access to technical resources. This is driving further business improvements and giving innovative people a taste for a career in engineering. Already the KTP has brought about positive changes throughout the company’s toolmaking process, allowing Icon Aerospace Technology to produce components within shorter timeframes and with greater design flexibility than conventional methods.

Projects such as this are proving crucial in helping the UK manufacturing sector to overcome a growing skills shortage. According to the manufacturer’s association the EEF, three-quarters of UK engineering firms have faced difficulties finding the right skilled workers over the last three years. The association has warned that the skills shortage is putting productivity growth at risk and putting further pressure onto companies that already face challenges in both domestic and overseas markets. Furthermore, female talent is particularly hard to find according to The Women’s Engineering Society, which claims that women comprise only nine percent of the UK engineering workforce.

Tim Pryce, CEO of Icon Aerospace Technology, is hoping that Killelay’s story will inspire other engineering businesses to partner with the education sector and increase both the time and financial investment required to turn people with raw skills into established engineering talent.

He commented: “At Icon Aerospace Technology, we are committed to creating a talent bridge for young people to help build our business. Recruiting and investing in people like Sara is great for businesses, universities and of course, the engineer in question. There are young people in education with raw skills which, with a bit of investment, support and development, can add great value to an engineering business. Our own commitment to talent is just one of the ways we are strengthening our capability and capacity.”

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