September 3, 2020
According to Scott Bullock, the newly installed interim principal charged with steering Newcastle College through the unforgiving waters of the coronavirus pandemic, it is the North East’s “glass half-full, can- do attitude” that puts the region in pole position to triumph in adversity.
“The people in this part of the world are incredibly resilient,” he insists. “That resilience has shaped the region’s history for centuries and we’re seeing it again during an unprecedented period of change.
“The pandemic has posed its fair share of challenges but we need to focus on the opportunities. As a college, we are listening carefully to what employers want and need as they plan for the future.
“We are keen to understand how the pandemic has reshaped their view and how their demands might differ. In some respects, the priorities haven’t changed – there is still a need to fill technical level skills gaps but it might be a case of accelerating our plans and delivering different courses to ensure our continued responsiveness.
“Our University Centre means we are uniquely positioned to train the talent of the future. Our vocational higher education courses, particularly in science and technology-based subjects, reflect a growing need for highly skilled individuals.
Scott continues: “We set up employer advisory boards focusing on digital, engineering, energy and renewables in order to identify where those skilled graduates were needed most. By working closely with employers and listening carefully, we are ideally positioned to meet the skills needs of a rapidly evolving workforce.”
A prime example of Newcastle College’s ability to pivot in response to feedback from its employer advisory boards is the decision to launch a foundation degree in engineering with applied digital technologies.
The two-year course is tailor-made to meet the demands of a sector in transition – thanks to the contribution of engineering specialists SMD, MSP and the expertise of Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) Tyneside-based team.
Newcastle College’s Digital Advisory Board worked alongside P&G, SMD and MSP to fine- tune a degree which supports the region’s Local Industrial Strategy for Advanced Manufacturing.
“It’s increasingly clear that there’s a real need for up-skilling and cross-skilling,” adds Scott.
“That’s particularly the case in the green energy sector. As well as our ground-breaking partnership with Port Training Services at Port of Blyth, we are also engaging with Equinor and SSE Renewables as they develop the Dogger Bank wind-farm to ensure that Newcastle College can service their need for employees of all levels and experiences.
“Our courses cater for students looking to make a start in the industry all the way through to onshore engineers looking to retrain as offshore professionals. Whatever your level of experience, up-skilling and cross-skilling are key.”
And Scott knows that better than most. With a background in sports science, he quickly gravitated towards curriculum management at New College Durham.
“At that point, I became interested in quality improvement,” he explains. “I want students to have the best experience possible and I’m in a position to ensure that happens.”
Prior to his promotion to interim principal, Scott’s roles as vice-principal (curriculum and quality) and deputy principal at Newcastle College opened his eyes to the passion and potential of students keen to play their part in the region’s resilient approach to economic regeneration.
His new role, following on from changes in the leadership of Newcastle College’s parent group NCG, affords the self-confessed advocate of lifelong learning a fresh opportunity to enable positive change.
“I was excited to accept the interim principal’s position and to focus on the return of student learning on campus,” he adds.
“That’s the immediate priority but of course I have a wider vision for the college. It’s centred on developing the ambitious and talented students, which modern enterprise and our local businesses really need. These are the people who will drive the region’s prosperity and kickstart its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have already shown that we can be proactive and adaptive in the face of adversity. From a standing start we were delivering 100 per cent online learning to our students within a couple of weeks and both staff and students took significant change in their stride.
“The success of that transition to online learning meant we had an opportunity to reassess the way we deliver teaching across the board.
“I think everyone accepts that a return to campus-based, face-to-face learning can’t come soon enough but our eyes have been opened to the value of new technology. I think a blended learning approach will suit our students best in the future.”
Matching emerging talent with established employers is central to that future. Scott is determined to pitch Newcastle College as the go-to destination for ambitious apprentices and as a hub for businesses building a skilled workforce.
“It’s all about linking the college curriculum to the needs of employers,” he adds. “I want our young people to be able to access exceptional facilities and high-quality teaching. At the same time, I want to work alongside our business partners in the region to ensure their needs are met.
“One of the things we are looking at is developing an apprenticeship hub where we can forge strong relationships with employers and give them the opportunity to speak directly to staff and students.
“We want to bring the most talented people together from Carlisle to Newcastle – across the A69 corridor – and create a real sense of quality around our apprenticeship offering.
“The Chancellor has announced a series of positive and proactive measures around incentivising employers to take on more apprentices and we are perfectly positioned to deliver a tried and tested package of training and education to young people taking their first steps towards the workplace.
“It’s equally important in these changing times that we don’t forget about our adult learners and that we ensure that there is a comprehensive offer available to support their return to work or change of employment. We’ve already started some great work around digital skills and employability skills for adults tied into the North of Tyne digital strategy and focused on upskilling and reskilling to meet the demands of our region.
“The pandemic continues to present numerous challenges but Newcastle College is determined to be at the forefront of the region’s positive response to meeting those challenges.”