June 4, 2019
The North East is a region that benefits greatly from its connections to the rest of the UK and beyond, particularly through its ports and international transport links. These links help it to thrive in several sectors, including offshore energy and manufacturing, but Lisa Hamilton-Murray, assistant principal at Newcastle College, believes it is the connections within the region, between people, business and education, that are vital to its continued growth.
“In an ever-increasing digital world, I believe it is important to keep making personal connections, having conversations and building partnerships,” she says.
“Forging relationships with industry is what allows education and skills providers like Newcastle College the insight to develop the right courses and facilities, provide people with the right tools and ultimately, connect them with their future career.”
The college’s connections to industry are at the centre of everything it does and forms the backbone of every course it offers – from entry level up to degree-level study through Newcastle College University Centre.
“Without connecting what we do with the needs of employers, the skills we pass on to our students wouldn’t be up-to-date or prepare them for the jobs they’re training for,” Lisa continues. “By ensuring our students are learning the practical, hands-on skills that employers are looking for, both now and in the future, in environments, which reflect industry, we are producing talented workers who will contribute to the future of the region.”
An example of these environments is Newcastle College’s award-winning Transport Academy, comprising rail and aviation academies, both of which are unique within the North East.
The £5 million, purpose-built Rail and Civil Engineering Academy was developed in partnership with industry leaders and houses the resources to train technicians and engineers in signalling, telecommunications, electrification and plant, P-way and safety-critical operations, as well as civil engineers – all under one roof.
It offers pathways into the rail, engineering and civil construction sectors – all of which are vital to the North East’s infrastructure.
The industry connections and partnerships the academy has, including Nexus and Ganymede, benefits students like 18-year-old Tia Jones, who is currently completing a Level 3 Diploma in Rail Engineering at the academy, alongside her job as a track worker at Ganymede. In September, Tia will continue at the academy to study a brand new Foundation Degree in Rail Engineering through Newcastle College University Centre.
Having always been interested in engineering, Tia chose the course because of the opportunities the facilities offered her. She reflects: “I’ve always been interested in engineering and the offer from Newcastle College looked interesting. It’s an exciting environment and it’s local and easy to get to.”
Back in 2018, when juggling studies alongside work within industry became challenging for Tia, she was able to reach out for support from her tutors and was also invited to join the college’s joint initiative with the Girls’ Network.
The Girls’ Network is a national mentoring scheme, aimed at helping female students overcome barriers to success – including confidence, lack of opportunities and a lack of role-models. Its mission is to ‘inspire and empower girls by connecting them with a mentor and a network of professional female role-models.’
Newcastle College currently has a number of female learners enrolled on its Girls’ Network programme, including Tia, who is one of only a few female students based at the Rail and Civil Engineering Academy. It is a support system that Lisa feels is vital to be able to offer students, not only for their immediate well-being but for their future career.
“It is not just the practical skills that are important,” she says. “We are tasked with producing a pipeline of skilled workers who will go on to work in roles pivotal to the region’s future. So, helping our students to develop interpersonal skills, resilience and a support network is vital to them being prepared for employment in the real world.”
Tia agrees that the support of the Girls’ Network has hugely helped her development, saying: “Being part of the Girls’ Network has made me so much more confident, both in general and in situations such as interviews.
“Getting to know my mentor has helped with my confidence and the work that I do. I don’t feel as anxious anymore. I feel inspired to pursue my career.”
The college’s priority areas align with the region’s growth areas – energy, digital, manufacturing and engineering. But its purpose has always been to help people unlock their potential. It appears that providing the right support and the right connections, as well as the right skills, is key to doing this.
“The success of the North East going forward relies on ensuring we have enough skilled people to plug emerging skills gaps,” Lisa continues. “To do that, employers must reach out and connect with schools and colleges and build relationships with our students and us.
“These relationships are what help us to tailor what we offer to the needs of employers and provide the right support to those people training for a career in the region and ultimately, these connections are what will help drive the region forward.”