Designing skills training for business

March 2, 2016

Gateshead College is blazing a trail when it comes to apprenticeships in the North East

With skills very much on the regional agenda, businesses can be reassured to know the North East has one of the few ‘outstanding’ further education colleges in the country.

More importantly, Gateshead College’s vision of working closely with local and regional employers to shape training courses specific to them has been recognised and applauded by Ofsted.

The college’s training provision has been industry-focused right from the outset. When the college was established in the 1950s, it pioneered one of the very first apprenticeship schemes for Sigmund Pumps. Today, Gateshead College is working alongside UK and internationally renowned companies such as Nissan and Vantec, providing training in new and emerging technologies – enabling them to create an innovative and highly skilled workforce.

These close and ever-strengthening ties between Gateshead College and industry have been welcomed by business representative organisations such as the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC), the Entrepreneurs’ Forum and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the NECC, says: “Gateshead College is a strategic asset within Tyne and Wear and is at the forefront of working with business, developing flexible ways to address the skills needs of local employers. Not only do its students leave with qualifications, they leave with the life skills needed to embark on the world of work.”

Gateshead College delivers more than 2000 apprenticeships each year to many employers across a wide range of sectors, including advanced manufacturing, construction, engineering, hospitality, logistics, automotive and hair and beauty – as well as new and emerging technologies.

Ivan Jepson, the newly appointed director of business development at Gateshead College, says: “Gone are the days when colleges were seen as qualifications factories. We have always tried to listen to the needs of local business to ensure our students have that employment edge which ultimately gives local business a competitive edge. This close work continues.”

He explains the college has been heavily involved with trailblazer apprenticeships, where groups of employers join forces with training providers to design new apprenticeship standards for jobs in their sector.

Gateshead College, he says, is at the forefront of smart metering trailblazers, working with employers across the energy sector and has played a key role in designing the automotive manufacturing sector’s maintenance technician apprenticeship. For both of these projects, the college has been part of the employer design groups, advising on content from a training provider and skills perspective.

Ivan adds: “We’re proud that our apprentices are consistently 10pc above the national benchmark for their achievements on their programme and we are among the top providers in England for a third year in a row. This was recognised by Ofsted when they graded us as outstanding in our June inspection, making us the only college in the country to receive outstanding in the last 12 months.”

The government has set a bold target to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. There is widespread consensus that greater educational attainment and workforce skills development are vital for higher productivity and growth both for the success of the Northern Powerhouse but also the wider UK.

“Apprenticeships are the backbone of our economy and provide opportunities for learners across a range of sectors, as well as a chance for businesses to build a highly skilled workforce,” says Ivan.

“At Gateshead College, we believe that the whole education sector should help promote the benefits of apprenticeships. This includes providing better impartial careers advice for all and we fully support the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan when she demands actions to abolish a two-tier careers advice system which promotes apprenticeships as second best.

“We welcome the legislation put forward to ensure that technical colleges have more access to schools to introduce and encourage the prospect of a successful first step on the career ladder thanks to an apprenticeship. By working together, we can ensure that young people receive sound, robust advice about the different paths available to help achieve personal career goals and change perceptions that apprenticeships aren’t as attractive as A Level and degree routes into higher paying jobs.”

Increasing the skills level across the North East workforce is a priority for Gateshead College and over the coming months it will be involved in a Higher Earning Higher Learning project with the Association of Colleges and other colleagues in the sector. A series of ‘challenge’ projects will invite employers to share their higher level skills needs. They will then work collaboratively with a college-led partnership to develop solutions.

Ivan Jepson says: “Our strong links with industry will only become more important. We have a big head start in that area but recognise we need to continue to keep building our networks to adapt and respond flexibly to the region’s changing skills needs.

“A wider network between education providers, business and key support agencies can’t be ignored if we’re to harness our collective strength to be truly competitive, attract investment, create jobs and retain talent in our region.”

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