Chairman's Blog: Colleges respond to business calls to change

Caption - PlanBEE Higher Apprentice at Arup

By Robin Mackie

Chair of Gateshead College


Businesses are demanding greater responsiveness and flexibility when it comes to the education and training of their new recruits and workforce.

For several years now I’ve heard the cry from business colleagues that training and the country’s academic qualifications are not fit for purpose for the modern workplace. Many different sectors have been bemoaning ‘the system’.

And for too long the Further Education sector has been among those in the firing line for what’s claimed to be a failure to respond and adjust to the challenges faced by businesses in a fast-moving, highly competitive environment.

The truth, of course, is that problems in our education system are much more complicated and systematic; FE is only a part of a complex picture and solution. As Chairman of Gateshead College I’d like to see our FE sector given a lot more credit than it’s received and celebrate the progress that has been made.

I am proud to be associated with a college that is regionally and nationally respected and is only one of a few to be rated as outstanding by Ofsted; our Principal, Judith Doyle, is nationally recognised by peers and politicians.

The strong links with the regional business community and the ongoing engagement with employers was recognised during the recent area review by the FE and Sixth Form College Commissioner.

Skills minister Robert Halfon has also acknowledged that Gateshead College is among a handful of colleges around the country that is properly engaging with local employers. While no one college can do everything, it shows what can be achieved with a combination of strong leadership and a clear strategy.

Several exciting and innovative projects are underway where Gateshead College is working with companies to develop customised programmes that suit their business needs.

When a powerful consortium of architects, designers, builders, construction companies and engineering specialists teamed up to establish a new way of recruiting and training people for the sector, they turned to Gateshead College.

This PlanBEE project, led by Ryder Architecture, was prompted by a belief that the current system is broken; that standard curriculums are too restrictive and traditional qualifications are no longer fit for purpose. By listening to these employers and working alongside Northumbria University, the college designed a clear career pathway that is both flexible and practical for new employees. This may become a model of best practice.

The college’s partnership with national housebuilder Persimmon is another good example of how we are working with employers to adapt training provision to meet their bespoke business needs. As well as helping ex-military personnel forge a worthwhile career in this industry, this initiative is also helping to develop a pipeline of skilled talent that will enable Persimmon to remain competitive going forward.

There is also more demand for ‘short’ sharp’ training, an area previously often addressed by private sector training providers and not FE. This is no longer the case. The best colleges are getting more agile and flexible to meet changing skills requirements.

An innovative project to help address the emerging skills gap in the North East digital and tech sector is set to be expanded following its early success. DevAcademy is working in partnership with Gateshead College to train young and adult candidates in the use of some of the latest software packages being used by IT and creative tech companies. An intensive six-week accelerator course, jointly designed by DevAcademy and Gateshead College, covered the fundamentals required for entry level posts as developers, testers, support analysts and other tech roles.

By January 2017 over a third of this first successful cohort of 23 people had been offered employment in various North East businesses.

FE colleges have a great opportunity to demonstrate we can be flexible, and responsive to business needs and will be instrumental in delivering the Government’s industrial strategy.


If you'd like to know more about the PlanBEE programme click here.

You can also attend an information and advice event. Go here to sign up.