May 1, 2019
A number of partnerships with key North East employers have helped to support Newcastle College’s aim to make it’s students work-ready for the regions manufacturing and engineering sectors.
The college’s specialist academies (Rail Academy, Automotive Academy, Aviation Academy and Energy Academy) all provide skills training and vocational education designed to mould talented engineers who can plug skills gaps across a number of growing industries in the region.
Its strategy to provide specialist training in realistic work environments through these dedicated academies has been backed by employers and even royalty – with its Transport Academy (comprised of Aviation and Rail academies) being awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Further and Higher Education in 2018.
Marc McPake, director of business partnerships at Newcastle College, says that academies such as these are vital to support an area which is key to the region’s continuous bid for global investment.
“Manufacturing and engineering are a huge part of the North East. We are lucky enough to have an infrastructure that supports international trade and continues to attract investment in these sectors from across the world, thanks to our fantastic air, sea and rail links,” he says.
“The region’s energy and automotive sectors in particular are booming and with the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) currently under development, we can expect to see continued growth in these areas, as well as the types of business which form their supply chains.
“It is absolutely vital that this growth is not stifled by a lack of skilled workers and that is why Newcastle College is responding with high-quality, vocational education to meet the needs of these industries now and in the future.”
In fact, Newcastle College already provides a number of manufacturing and engineering courses, with specialisms offered across all of its academies for particular sectors, such as offshore renewable and subsea energies, or aerospace engineering. And it is employer and industry insight which allowed the college to develop those academies.
Marc explains: “The vision was always for our academies to be recognised by employers in those areas as the leading training provider within the North East for their needs.
“They have all been the result of multi-partner collaboration and industry insight, which is why they sit in the heart of industry among employers – to ensure that the facilities and programmes are fit for purpose and offer the right skills needed.
“Collaboration is at the heart of everything that Newcastle College does. We strive to work with employers because they’re the experts and it takes relationships with them to understand what skills and experiences are most needed.
“All of our courses and training programmes are moulded by industry somewhere along the way. Whether it’s a school leaver programme, an apprenticeship, or a degree at Newcastle College University Centre, they’ve all been shaped to offer a direct pathway into employment, or an option to continue further study.
“Employer relationships can also develop into partnerships which take us outside of the standard curriculum and allow us to create bespoke solutions to specific skills gaps.”
The solutions that Marc refers to are something of a specialism for his team within the college and it is these blueprints he feels could be key to ensuring there is the right pipeline of talent for sector growth.
“In the past 12 months, we’ve forged key relationships within the North East’s energy sector which have already made a significant impact on skills training and future employment for the industry.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have secured the world’s most advanced ‘Immersive Hybrid Reality’ (iHR) training system for the offshore wind industry, thanks to our relationship with the ORE Catapult, the organisation behind its development.
“It is a unique tool which allows us to provide a safe training environment for future wind turbine engineers in our Energy Academy and it puts us at the forefront of engineer skills training for the offshore wind industry in the North East.”
It is a partnership which not only helps secure the future of skills training for a thriving sector in the region, but one which has opened up even more opportunities for the offshore industry.
Marc continues: “Being able to offer training through the iHR system puts us in a unique position and has led to discussions with a number of employers about the benefits for their own workforce.
“It also opened up a conversation with Port of Blyth about the lack of training opportunities available to young people living in Blyth and South Northumberland, despite it being home to the Port and a hub of key energy employers.
“Working together, we’ve now developed a tailored version of our offshore engineering courses and apprenticeships to be based in Blyth, taking advantage of the Port’s industry expertise and real-working environment.
“It’s a unique set-up for us, extending our campus even further beyond Newcastle and is designed to help people access a range of qualifications for the sector, from entry to degree level, and benefit from employment opportunities on their doorstep, which is something I hope to replicate across industries.”
Marc thinks that it’s important that employers across every industry forge relationships with colleges and universities, to ensure that the skills being taught are meeting their needs.
“Our Energy Academy has a programme which invites employers to become a bronze, silver or gold partner and contribute in various ways to supporting students and helping us to identify and respond to areas of skills shortages,” says Marc.
So far, ORE Catapult and Wallsend-based Barrier Ex Ltd have signed up to the initiative. But it isn’t just the energy sector benefitting from collaborations like these. Across manufacturing and engineering, the College has worked closely with huge regional employers, such as Responsive Engineering, Formica and Nexus.
“I can give examples of industry and education collaboration across every curriculum area and every sector and the positive impact it’s had,” he continues.
“There is a lot of talk about skills gaps and as we continue to grow across areas such as manufacturing and engineering, those gaps are only going to get wider. We are responding to that growth and the Government is responding with initiatives such as the apprenticeship levy, so it’s important that employers take advantage.
“Newcastle College’s role is to provide a pipeline of skilled workers to meet employer needs and to help our students into employment. The key to that is for employers to allow us to solve their problems with skills gaps and work with us to ensure that the training we offer is right for them.
“If it’s not we can adapt it, or offer something completely bespoke, so that when opportunities open up as a result of growth, they can be offered to skilled people already living and working in the North East and so that businesses will continue to invest here.”