Principal's Blog: Priorities to drive a Working North East

The start of a new year gives us a chance to refocus and make sure that we are heading in the right direction.

2017 will be a significant year for us in many ways; particularly for careers, skills, and further education. Yes, there will be challenges along the way, we have come to expect that, but there are likely to be just as many opportunities.

I have a list as long as my arm of things I want Gateshead College to deliver for our students and our region but my priorities for 2017 are clear.

We start the year reminding ourselves that Gateshead College serves a broad community. Our inclusive approach is central to why we’re among the few outstanding FE colleges in the country. The needs of learners and the regional business community remain central to all we do.

Providing support to learners feeling disenfranchised and disengaged is just as valuable as helping those demanding higher skills to further their potential and career opportunities. Our vision is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to access and acquire the skills to get into work and improve their social mobility and ultimately the economic success of the region.

Our priorities at Gateshead College will continue to support the priorities of our key strategic partners including the North East LEP and the North East England Chamber of Commerce because as we enter into 2017, strong collaborations will be more important than ever if we are to continue make a real difference. My priorities include:

Delivering high quality, independent careers advice

I feel strongly about the need to deliver excellent, impartial careers advice and guidance, currently offered in a patchy fashion around the country. Good advice is really important to opening up opportunities and jobs for people from all backgrounds across any region. I have challenged all of my staff to build on our AOC Beacon Award, which was national recognition of our partnership work in this area. It’s not acceptable to see so many young people miss out on opportunities to access high quality, well paid and career-enhancing vocational training simply because they had not been told it was available.

Promoting apprenticeship funding reforms

April’s introduction of the apprenticeship levy is a game-changer for businesses and the FE sector. Such significant changes to funding for training has already created uncertainty and some confusion. We will step up our work with businesses and the regional chamber of commerce to help explain the big changes underway. We will act as a first point of contact, helping guide those businesses impacted by the new tax and our SMEs through all of the changes, step by step. The new levy is a huge opportunity for more businesses to get the most out of their workforce and invest in young apprenticeships.

Working more flexibly

We recognise the college will have to work differently with employers in the new apprenticeship levy world. But we won’t be doing this from a standing start. In recent years we have strengthened our links with business to listen to their concerns and needs. We understand many employers think standard curriculums can be too restrictive and traditional qualifications may no longer be fit for purpose. We have responded, created bespoke courses and started developing career pathways in sectors that may become national models of best practice. There will be more of this going forward.

Listen, think, act

Gateshead College and the wider FE sector will only have a meaningful role if we listen, consider and respond to all the users and communities we serve. Our work must be highly responsive and meet current and anticipated needs. We will continue to work closely with business organisations and other key partners to ensure we are finely tuned and alert to change from a business, economic and political perspective.

My outstanding team and I look forward to a busy and challenging 2017.