Scott Bullock of Newcastle College talks about the impact of colleges and employers working together on local communities and economies.
Working in the FE sector, I have always been passionate about the difference that good education and skills training can make. I have seen first-hand the impact that colleges can have on individuals, on businesses of all sizes and on our local communities – and that is following many years of underinvestment.
That’s why I am such a big supporter of Colleges Week, which has always championed the vital role of colleges and campaigned for further funding. This year, the value of the work that we do is clearer than ever.
I became Interim Principal of Newcastle College earlier this year, just in time to support our students through the many delays and disappointments of August’s results days. My first few months have been spent navigating the safe reopening of campus for our entire community and supporting colleagues, students and our local businesses through this ongoing crisis.
Looking ahead, we’ll continue that support which is integral to rebuilding the North East economy not only post-Covid, but post-Brexit too. As part of NCG, our Chief Executive Liz Bromley sits on the board of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and that ensures that our voice is heard and that we remain aligned to the LEP’s vision for the region and to the skills and sector demands here.
Being part of NCG means we are one of seven colleges across the country that each work in close partnership with employers and local industry to offer education and skills training that leads to real employment opportunities. We each have local priorities, but together we share expertise and help each other to innovate, so that we can accomplish real change for young people, communities and our local economies across the UK
Working together makes it easier to do the work that we do, but we certainly couldn’t do it without our employer partners. Newcastle College enjoys fantastic partnerships with employers across the North East and they are our biggest strength – vital in helping us to develop courses and qualifications which give our students the skills and experience that employers will need.
We’ve been working with Newcastle United Foundation for a number of years to combine education and sports training, delivering Level 2 and 3 courses that allow students to play at a high standard in a national football league while gaining an important qualification for their futures.
Now, we have expanded that partnership and committed to becoming the Foundation’s Strategic Learning Partner for the next three years, with the aim of strengthening our local communities, helping disadvantaged people to develop new skills across a number of growth sectors in the North East, including digital and construction.
Unfortunately, it is likely that our region, and in particular our young people, will be hit the hardest by the challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit. As an FE provider, we want to ensure that we are offering every learning opportunity possible to our community, helping them to learn the skills that will be in demand in the coming years.
Working with Newcastle United Foundation will not only help us to create these new courses, but help us to reach people of all ages and backgrounds across the entire region who may be currently disengaged from education and unaware of the opportunities open to them.
That includes the possibility of new adult education programmes, brand new BTEC qualifications in e-sports and coaching, apprenticeships and targeted work placements and traineeships to help bridge the gap between education and employment. We’ve also jointly committed to creating 40 apprenticeships over the next three years to offer real training and employment opportunities within the partnership.
Partnerships like this make a real impact on local people and local economies by creating real job opportunities and enabling social mobility. They require commitment from both employers and colleges and of course they require real funding too, which limits just how many of these valuable partnerships we can forge.
The government has recently hinted at investment in further education, with the announcement of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and incentives for employers hiring new apprentices in its Plan for Jobs, which is rightly focused on skills.
I can only hope that this translates to the government recognising the true value of further education and vocational training and I will remain quietly hopeful that the upcoming FE White Paper will deliver on those promises.
In particular, I hope that it recognises the crucial role that colleges play regionally and provides improved funding flexibilities so that colleges can focus on the skills needed to aid the recovery of our local economies and support our local communities.
In the meantime, I will pledge my support for Colleges Week 2020 and encourage every business owner to do likewise.