Training for tomorrow

Deni Chambers, director of creative and digital industries at Newcastle College tells Hotspot how the college is providing the skills the digital sector needs

How big is the college?
Newcastle College is part of one of the leading not-for-profit education and training education organisations in the UK, NCG. It offers a wide range of courses and training programmes from entry level to Masters Degrees for more than 16,000 students each year. The college employs approximately 1,000 staff from its city-centre base in Newcastle and academies across the North East.

How much emphasis do you put on digital?
We have positioned ourselves at the forefront of the industry for digital tech training. We realise the important part digital tech plays across all sectors and the transferable skills gained can be put to vital use.

What is the college’s digital tech provision?
We train over 600 students in this field from entry level courses to honours degrees and apprenticeships. Our provision is not only suitable for young people but for those already working in industry aiming to gain accreditation and upskill.

The college’s digital tech department is made up of over 45 members of staff, from those in direct teaching roles to mentors and progression coaches. The teaching team is made up of industry experienced practitioners and published scholars.

We have recently invested a significant amount to create a dedicated home for digital tech at our city-centre campus. Our digital tech hub opened in September 2017 and is home to a number of brand-new digital labs and lecture theatres containing interactive screen technology. Students are able to hone their skills on over 450 PC’s and Mac’s with the latest specifications and operating systems, as well as having access to diverse range of tablet and handheld devices. Our technology is comparable to what’s found in industry.

How do you work with industry on digital tech?
Our digital tech provision is supported by key employers and we have good relationships with employers and business networks such as Accenture, Tombola, Dynamo, Space Group, Verimus and JUMP.

These employers not only provide valuable insights but also present unique experiences for our students. Employers provide live project briefs, where students collaborate in teams to solve problems. In addition, students also benefit from work placements, employment fairs and guest lectures.

How do you ensure your curriculum keeps pace with such a fast moving sector?
We regularly embrace employer forums with our partners to gain valuable insight into not only what skills gaps exist within the sector but what we need to be preparing for to stay ahead.

Internally, we undertake regular curriculum reviews where we utilise this industry feedback. If we don’t think that a qualification fits what we’re trying to achieve we’ll identify other qualification frameworks to ensure the most suitable content. For our degree provision, our Taught Degree Awarding Powers mean that we can develop our own degree programmes. We go full circle with our qualifications and take our new frameworks back to industry for their insight before we roll these out to our students.

Our recent work with Space Group has seen us jointly develop an eight-week qualification in Building Information Modelling. The programme aims to equip young people who are not in education or employment with the foundation skills to be able to progress onto an internship, apprenticeship or full-time course at the college.

Within the digital tech team, we place a big emphasis on industry liaison. Staff members sit on a breadth of networking and steering groups and I personally find my seat on the Dynamo Board is one of the most valuable assets in helping the college see abreast of the developments within tech.

What do your students go on to do?
Our students have gone on to forge successful careers in a diverse range of digital tech roles from security and programming to digital media and animation.