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Ideas & Observations

Securing the future of the North

By Jon Ridley, Deputy Principal of Newcastle College and Executive Director of Higher Education at NCG

The mission of NCG and its colleges is to enable economic prosperity and social mobility of the communities we serve through exceptional education. But what does that really mean? At the end of 2021, Newcastle College University Centre secured a multi-million funding bid to invest in leading edge teaching resources and facilities in Renewable Energy, Engineering, Digital Technologies and Aviation, and Electric Vehicles.

The £2,000,000 we received will be invested in creating talent for a vibrant regional and national economy, specifically within STEM areas. It speaks to what we are about; creating work-ready graduates with the specific skills that employers need within both the local and regional economies – in particular those technical skills at levels four and five. We will make sure we invest carefully to meet the needs of our students’ current experience and also prepare and equip students to address and meet the social and economic needs of the future.

Many Newcastle College University Centre students and graduates live locally and remain in the North East after they graduate. We are committed to a programme of ‘Stay and Succeed’, collaborating with industry to place graduates in roles with regional employers.  Working to co-create programmes and opportunities for students with regional business is core to what we do. We prepare our graduates to play a key role in the future of the North East region and its communities, so promoting talent retention in the region is crucial in continuing the growth of the North East economy.

Retaining the talent isn’t just about students; we have a highly talented teaching staff, that are dual professionals – meaning they are specialists and have worked in their technical field and are skilled teachers. It is vital that we have the facilities that make the University Centre a place where teachers aspire to work and once they’re here and doing work they love, they don’t want to leave. We are committed to providing teaching facilities that give our teachers and students access to industry standard kit and practice. So, if you come to study aircraft maintenance engineering, you’ll develop skills and knowledge by working hands on with a small business jet.

Everything we’re doing now is built on investing in the region’s long-term future. While the equipment and facilities we are investing in are to train and develop students for what is needed now, it will also prepare them for, what we anticipate, is coming based upon industry trends and the ongoing digital revolution. Particularly, with the impact of the pandemic, the pattern continues that, regardless of your career path, there is an element of digital dependency in one form or another.

Investing in digital is now more vital than ever before; with the sector employing more than 29,000 people in digital and IT jobs and a further 15,250 employed in creative industries*, the future of the North East region is rooted in digital. This was further emphasised when Newcastle was named the UK’s smartest city in the global Smart City Index in 2021*, placing ahead of both London and Manchester**. Our commitment to developing higher technical digital skills tackles that demand head-on, creating a digitally savvy workforce. The Digital Hub based on our city-centre Rye Hill campus and our immersive-reality facilities are leading edge and provide access to first class hands-on learning and training.

Responsible investment for the future should always consider green objectives. With the UK government’s commitments to achieving Net Zero, there is increasing emphasis on developing sustainable options for the future. As a college, we have a dedicated Energy Academy focusing on the new and emerging jobs coming from the green economy and we have made significant investment in these facilities to ensure our students are confident to thrive in renewable energy and green technologies. As the green economy develops, we aim to ensure the next graduates entering the workforce are well qualified, skilled engineers who can, for example, maintain a wind turbine, and also have the digital skills to do so remotely if required, embracing every opportunity with confidence.

The North East is a wonderful place to work and live. At Newcastle College University Centre it is our responsibility to face the future with confidence, working collaboratively with business and education to ensure this region thrives. On a global scale, we are seeing a conscious effort to move to a more sustainable way of living and working, so investment in green technologies is becoming more important. In a similar way, as industries continue to digitalisation, we continue to see the need for a digital element of education, particularly in STEM related careers. And in order to secure a future for the region we need to give the students and graduates the knowledge and skills they need to move into the workforce as key players in building and growing the North East economy.