Chairman's Blog - Colleges must remain focused during disruptive times

By Robin Mackie

Chair of Gateshead College

The drive to tackle skills shortages in regions across the UK is set for a bumpy ride in the coming months.

It’s important that the introduction of complex apprenticeship reforms and a general election campaign do not derail the momentum behind skilling our workforce.

Gateshead College, where I sit as chairman, is acutely aware of the concerns among employers and training providers to the huge apprenticeship reforms underway. In addition, there are many worried training providers of apprenticeships with non-levy employers who are unhappy with the delays to procurement.

At Gateshead, we remain focused on our core activities, working with many employers to help them understand the implications of the apprenticeship levy. The hope is that the next Government – whoever is in power – will continue to commit to funding apprenticeships for smaller businesses, many of which need fresh talent to grow and prosper. After the election on June 8, it would be encouraging to hear ministers confirm that they remain focused on delivering three million apprenticeships by 2020.

These are clearly uncertain times but we cannot afford the luxury of waiting on the outcome of a general election or being distracted from providing regional employers with work-ready, flexible employees; we are getting on with the task in hand.

Last year a team of specialists was established within Gateshead College to focus on promoting apprenticeships and flexible work-based training to small and large employers. This team, led by Ivan Jepson under the active direction of college principal Judith Doyle, is currently working flat out to explain the changes underway, helping make the funding challenges as simple as possible.

While sharing some of the sector’s worries, Gateshead College will focus on its remit and continue to work for the people who rely on us. This is an outstanding college that’s doing some ground-breaking skills projects which have potential to address needs around the country.

We remain hopeful that the recently launched Industrial Strategy will not be forgotten post-general election and that apprenticeships, improved careers guidance and lifelong learning will remain priorities in a new government.

Gateshead College will resist any disruptions to business, regionally or nationally. The FE sector has a duty to its core constituency. We will continue to promote technical apprenticeships to young people as an ideal route to work. We will also work closely with employers to ensure they understand the new landscape that can help them recruit and train new talent while also improving skills within existing workforces.