April 2, 2019
The North East’s digital sector has seen significant growth over the past few years and has been hailed as one of the most progressive in the UK, thanks to developments including the creation of the National Innovation Centre for Data and the Centre for Innovation and Growth.
It is no surprise that the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) sees the sector as key to supporting their objectives to create more and better jobs in the region by 2024. To continue that growth, and ensure the NELEP meets its targets, it is vital that education and skills providers respond with high-quality vocational education and apprenticeships to deliver a skilled and thriving workforce for the sector.
Newcastle College – which aligns itself to the region’s skills priorities to shape its curriculum – recognises the industry as key to the North East’s future and has invested in improving its digital tech provision across further education, apprenticeships and degree level study at Newcastle College University Centre.
Assistant principal Jon Ridley says that one of the college’s most important roles in the region is to produce a pipeline of talent for a changing economy – and that requires collaboration with industry.
“Employer relationships are central to what we do at Newcastle College,” Jon explains.
“Particularly when it comes to industries such as digital, we’re responsible for teaching the next generation of digital designers, web developers, network engineers and roles that I am sure don’t exist yet.
“Our focus is on ensuring that people are leaving us with the skills, knowledge, behaviours and experience that will make them a success in the workforce. In a sector like digital, which is constantly evolving and developing, new skills gaps come with the territory and we have to be agile enough to respond.
“Digital skills are relevant across all industries as businesses of all types evolve with the changing digital landscape. That’s why we’re developing hybrid programmes, which allow students across a range of subjects to develop their digital skills. “We really value our relationships we have with industry because they help us to create courses and curriculum that is current and relevant. Plus, our students benefit from work placements and industry experience, something which we and the NELEP both think is incredibly valuable.”
It is this approach that shapes the college’s higher education arm, Newcastle College University Centre, and allows it to deliver a distinct vocational and technical higher education offering.
“Our University Centre was developed in response to demand for skilled graduates,” Jon explains. “It offers a vocational alternative to university and puts work experience and industry training at the forefront, which is why our courses come with a work-ready guarantee.”
The University Centre succeeds at providing the high-quality, technical education so needed by the industry, having been awarded The Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Further and Higher Education in recognition of its commitment to vocational training, as well as a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) Silver Award in 2017, a Government initiative which recognises excellence in teaching at higher education level.
However, Jon points out that having the courses available isn’t the college’s only responsibility. He continues: “The skills gaps we’re experiencing are down to a number of factors, so an important aspect of our role is to encourage more people into STEM-based routes and emerging industries, and to encourage them to utilise that knowledge and talent here in the North East.
“Part of our work with employers is to inspire our students and make them aware of the fantastic opportunities available right here on their doorstep, whether that’s progressing to a degree, a higher or degree apprenticeship or introducing them to the growing number of digital and tech employers we have in our region.”
According to NELEP, the North East is home to more than 29,000 people working in a digital or IT-based role, responsible for contributing over £2 billion to the region’s economy each year.
“We are seeing many developments and continued growth in the digital sector,” says Jon. “Particularly the growing hub of digital agencies and app developers setting up here.
“But businesses across every sector require more digital expertise in their workforce.”
The college recently utilised its relationships with employers to host its first industry week dedicated to digital technology, with the aim of inspiring students by showcasing the growing number of opportunities in the region.
Working in partnership with the North East Collaborative Outreach Project (NECOP), key local contacts working in cyber security, software development and gaming were invited to speak to students from entry-level up to degree about their careers and the necessary skills they need to succeed in the industry.
Guests at the week-long event included Laura Dempsey, managing director of cyber security provider TeraByte, Adam Anderson, managing director of web design agency Blue Cookie, ethical hacker Tom Johnson and Tom Moran, user experience lead at TH_NK, the Newcastle digital agency behind the Pottermore website.
Jonathan Wilson, of Pocket Money Games, also stepped in to judge a student GameJam, which saw teams of mixed-level students design game concepts over a three day period.
“We are proud to have some exceptional digital employers in our region and we work closely with many of them,” says Jon.
“The idea behind industry week was to showcase the hundreds of opportunities and routes available here, tell people’s stories and show our students what they can achieve if they work hard.
“Newcastle College works hard to inspire its students by providing the right courses, the right pathways and the right facilities, but it is the people already working, living and breathing those roles who are vital to inspiring our students’ progression and success.
“I hope that by continuing to nurture our existing relationships with our digital employers in the region and developing new ones, we can continue to provide solutions for the region’s talent pipeline and inspire and create the digital workforce of the future.”