Experience is key for future digital workforce

April 2, 2019

The digital tech industry may be powering the growth of our local economy but attracting and developing skilled people remains a crucial challenge. The introduction of the Government’s very first T levels next year will place greater emphasis on digital businesses to support more young people to get the experience that will ultimately boost the industry’s talent pool. Gateshead College is already working with employers to determine how the new training will work and what it means for the North East digital sector

Described as the most radical education reform in 70 years, T levels will roll out from September 2020 in three sectors: digital, construction and education. Like apprenticeships, the new T levels are carefully developed by employers so that the content meets the needs of industry and employers are being asked to provide high quality work placements of at least 45 days.

With just over a year to go until the first T level students start the training that’s set to launch their career, Gateshead College is working with employers to trial the longer work placements and see how the new programme will benefit them.

Tracy Foreman, assistant principal at Gateshead College, says: “These placements are a vital component of T levels and as a work-focused college we wanted to embrace the opportunity to develop these, creating a work programme that will be valuable to both businesses and the students.

“We support employers to design relevant and meaningful placements and help them to complete paperwork, as well as working with them to identify students with the right attitudes and attributes to give the most to their business. We are continuing to work with employers to bridge the gap between education and employment and help industry address critical skills shortages.

“There have been challenges to overcome but companies generally have been really receptive; this includes the smaller businesses that previously may have had reservations about offering work placements but are finding that with the right support from us they can get real benefit from the experience and they’re getting the right young people through the door.”

Adient, a global automotive seating supplier, located in Sunderland, is one of several local firms to offer placements to Gateshead College students.

Cyber security analyst Gareth Byers, who is studying for a BTEC qualification in networking and support systems, is thriving on his placement in the company’s IT department where he’s working under the supervision of IT manager Mark Smith.

The 17-year-old has certainly made a big impression, as Adient’s HR manager Hayley Cheel explains.

“Having Gareth as part of our team has been a really worthwhile experience – both for him and us. We wanted to explore the idea of bringing in someone who could work alongside Mark and handle some of the day-to-day issues we encounter, such as making sure our networks are always safe and secure.

“When we found out about the placement opportunity, we were keen to work with Gateshead College to make it happen. We’ve had a great relationship with the college for many years and we’ve always been happy with their support, particularly their ability to really get under the skin of our business and understand our skills needs and business requirements.

“Although our digital function in Sunderland is small as most of our IT is handled by our German sites, we needed an extra pair of hands on board and Gareth impressed us from the off. What we really like about him is his inquisitive nature, his desire to learn, ask questions and get involved in day-to-day activities. He’s been here two days a week since January and he’s already made a huge difference to our business. He’s created a colourcoded spreadsheet that flags up any vulnerabilities in our IT networks – an invaluable resource that ensures we can protect our data.”

Hayley continues: “Not only does he come up with excellent ideas, we also benefit from his youthful energy. This placement is also good for Gareth; it enables him to get valuable work experience that’ll look great on his CV. Getting a qualification at college is good, but if you have a qualification and experience, that makes you more employable in the eyes of local companies.

“We’re a company that invests in our people – our biggest asset. With help from Gateshead College, we’ve trained welders, specialists in robotics and staff who work in our support functions. We’ve also enrolled some of our employees on leadership and management courses. Now we have a 260-strong workforce in Sunderland and one in three cars on the road have an Adient seat – although not many people know this!

“Bringing in the right skills is crucial to ensure we’re successful in the future. It’s also really important to hire people with the right attitudes, people who can fit into the culture we’ve created at Adient. We want staff who are brimming with ideas and who take the initiative, talented individuals who are flexible, open-minded and can work as part of a team. Gateshead College understands this and when they bring students like Gareth to us, we know they’ll have a great work ethic as well as a good skillset.

Hayley concludes: “Technical education is vital for businesses like ours, so that’s why T levels will be a good addition to the curriculum. The automotive sector is a competitive animal so we’ll need to continually invest in skills that will help us stay ahead of the game. That goal will be a lot easier to achieve with the support of Gateshead College and with people like Gareth on board.”

Gateshead College
To find out more about Gateshead College and the courses on offer, visit: www.gateshead.ac.uk/courses/ www.gateshead.ac.uk

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