Colleges at the Centre of the Economic Rebuild

This week it’s AoC College’s Week and Andy Broadbent, Principal and Chief Executive at New College Durham, takes a look at why employers and colleges need to work together and how this is already happening and evolving to rebuild the regional economy…

At New College Durham we are the lead educational partner in the North East Institute of Technology (NEIoT). In addition we are one of the first colleges to provide the new T-Level qualifications. Our motivation to get involved with both these initiatives was down to our partnership approach between colleges and employers. For us, working with employers is the key to ensuring we can supply the workforce which meets the needs of the region to ensure economic redevelopment.

The new Institutes of Technology are collaborations between Further Education colleges, universities and businesses. They are designed to develop the higher level technical skills and qualifications that employers really need both for now and in the future. The NEIoT will focus on advanced manufacturing and engineering, construction and digital sectors. Being part of this gives us the opportunity to re-engage with employers in a totally different way that takes a collaborative approach across the North East. It sees key employers from the region, working with the educational partners to provide strategic input into the latest technologies and design of curriculum so our students and employees gain the skills, behaviours and knowledge employers need. It’s about ensuring we meet the skills demands across the whole of the North East.

T-Levels, are a Level 3 qualification that are equivalent to 3 A-Levels and can be a route directly into employment or higher education. They offer a slightly different opportunity to work with employers as they have an industry placement element for students. These are extended work placements which allow students to   access hands on work experience in their chosen sector. This gives them the real working experience that they need to succeed in their chosen career. We see this as a link into a range of different employer partnerships and the beginnings of fresh dialogue which once again builds employer feedback into our curriculum design and delivery and capital infrastructure. Not only will this close collaboration allow employers to expose students to job related skills, but it will also ensure students are work ready when they finish their qualification.

As a college we already have strong employer links, but now as we expand these relationships with T-Levels and as the lead educational partner in the NEIoT, the scope and opportunity to diversify and strengthen employer relationships is really exciting. Even in the early stages of these new journeys we’re already looking to the future and what is next. The next key sector we are looking to focus on is health and life sciences. We are now investigating and planning how we can move forward and get involved in the new health and care employer hubs. Similar to the IoTs this will see colleges, universities and NHS trusts coming together to ensure we can fill vacancies in the health and care sector. This goes beyond the typical job roles that automatically spring to mind. It’s about ensuring we have people trained in all areas that are needed to keep the NHS moving; so it’s the health care assistants; the catering services; the porters; the technicians to name a few.  

As well as being at the forefront of Government-led initiatives as early adopters, we also continually look at our full curriculum offer and how we can progress, tailor and change this to ensure it meets the needs of the local and regional economy. We study labour market information to understand skills gaps and job vacancies, but it’s also a balancing act of ensuring that we offer the range and scope of what students want to study. Ensuring students get the right careers education, information, advice and guidance early in their application journey is critical. This allows them to understand the career progression routes and options that will help them reach and achieve sustained employment. This is teamed with tailoring our programmes to meet the expectations and needs of students and employers. When our students leave us they need to be ready to immediately make a valuable contribution to our local economy. This is one of our key purposes as an education provider and as a participant of our North East community. It’s all about giving our students the skills, behaviours and knowledge that employers need.