Judith Doyle: Further Education is key to Northern Powerhouse success

Image caption: Nissan's Anne Ratcliffe and Judith Doyle at Gateshead College's Skills Academy for Sustainable Manufacturing and Innovation.

The northern powerhouse presents our region with an opportunity to generate greater economic prosperity for our businesses and communities while going some way to balancing the long recognised north-south divide in the UK economy.

Educational attainment and labour market performance is vital for higher productivity and economic growth, and in turn, the success of the northern powerhouse. The Government’s promise to create 600,000 good quality jobs in the North of England, in addition to its ambitious target of creating three million apprenticeship places in the UK by 2020, means it has never been more important for employers to take a strategic view of skills development and to have a plan in place to meet their needs now and in the future.

Gateshead College’s training provision has been industry-focused right from the outset. When the college was established in the 1950s, we pioneered one of the very first apprenticeship schemes for Sigmund Pumps. Today, we are working alongside UK and internationally renowned companies such as Nissan and Vantec, providing training in new and emerging technologies, enabling them to create an innovative and highly skilled workforce.

Our strategic approach to working with employers ensures that the businesses we support have a significant input into course content, providing bespoke solutions for both up-skilling existing employees and recruiting and training new staff. Our partnership with Vantec, the largest global third party logistics provider, has created a broad range of courses from level 1 to level 7, providing staff from entry level right through to senior management with a clear progression route – an investment which helps to retain talent in the North East and instil confidence that higher paying job opportunities are available in the region.

We’re very proud to be Nissan’s trusted training partner and we’ve worked with the Sunderland plant for more than a decade to develop a packed training programme unique to Nissan that hits every area of the business. Included in this training is the company’s prestigious apprenticeship programme which can take employees through the levels to a degree equivalent qualification.  Over the years we have worked with Nissan to adapt the course content which now heavily focuses on practical workshop time to develop advanced engineering skills such as the design and production of electric vehicles.

Research by UKCES (UK commission for Employment and Skills) estimates that by 2020 well over half of new jobs created in the north will require a qualification of Level 3 (equivalent to A Levels) or above, increasing the demand for higher level training. The support of the further education sector to meet this demand is fundamental.

Increasing the skills level across the North East workforce is a priority for Gateshead College and over the coming months we will be involved in a Higher Earning Higher Learning project with the AoC (Association of Colleges) and other colleagues in the sector. A series of ‘challenge’ projects will invite employers to share their higher level skills needs. They will then work collaboratively with a college-led partnership to develop solutions.  The ‘challenge’ projects could explore flexible delivery models for HNC, HND or Foundation Degree qualifications, develop Higher Apprenticeship programmes, develop CPD programmes or blend college provision with employer delivery, private provider delivery and professional body certifications and qualifications.

Having all of these opportunities in place is one thing but to really make it work in practice, achieving greater awareness of the career routes available is essential. I strongly believe that greater cohesion is needed between schools, colleges and employers to ensure broad and impartial careers advice is offered. By working together, we can ensure that young people receive sound, robust advice about the different paths available to help achieve personal career goals and change perceptions that apprenticeships aren’t as attractive as A level and degree routes into higher paying jobs.

The North East is home to flourishing businesses, has a long-standing reputation for innovation and engineering excellence, and an adaptable workforce that has transitioned from heavy industries to become pioneers in advanced manufacturing techniques and digital technologies. To remain competitive and really play our part in improving the regional and local economies of the north, we need to harness this success and continue to provide opportunities to learn and gain work-based skills that meet the current and future needs of industry.

While it’s easy for me to say that skills and training should be prioritised by businesses to help us shine as a northern powerhouse, I know that many companies have never embarked on any training programmes or taken on apprentices. They might feel overwhelmed or not know how to go about it. That’s where our team of experts can step in. Call us on 0191 440 2258 for help to secure funding, build tailored training programmes and even support with recruitment.