Principal's Blog: Lifelong learning is key to economic growth

Workforce development along with wider adult training have always been critical to a region's economic prosperity and wellbeing.

Recent years have seen an overall reduction in government spending on adult education in general; despite the subsequent changes to our funding however, Gateshead College has continued to work with partners to maintain a good level of investment in adult education and training.

I was therefore hugely encouraged to see recently, a renewed commitment to and acknowledgment by our government, of the value of lifelong learning. This was highlighted most noticeably by The Prime Minister stressing its importance within the new Industrial Strategy Green Paper.

I was personally delighted when the skills minister Robert Halfon recently took the time to visit Gateshead College as part of the launch of the Industrial Strategy. The visit also gave him the opportunity to see first-hand some of the many innovative things we are doing with students and businesses at Gateshead College to support the skills challenges in our region.

I have long believed that genuine economic and social prosperity will only be achieved if we make access to learning and employment as attractive as possible to everyone in our communities.

As a responsible and highly inclusive organisation, we work hard to ensure learners of all ages, irrespective of their starting points and backgrounds, are able to gain access to education and training and ultimately get onto the employment ladder.

During Mr Halfon's visit, I highlighted an innovative project we have undertaken with national house builder Persimmon where we are retraining former military personnel for a career in the construction industry. Gateshead College will train all of Persimmon's 'Combat to Construction' employees and also support the York headquartered business with its new programme 'Upskill to Construction' for those adults looking for a career change or a boost to their existing building skills.

Our partnership with Persimmon is a very 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.

Increasingly, we are seeing demand from employers for a mix of different kinds of recruitment and training support within their organisations.  Adult education, in this context, is now recognised as vitally important; it enables clear career pathways to be developed for emerging talented individuals, while also giving focus to the wider need to retrain parts of the existing workforce, to ensure continued agility and effectiveness within competitive markets.

Last autumn Gateshead College successfully secured an additional £15m funding contract from the European Social Fund through the Skills Funding Agency, to help get more adults into work and training while also supporting businesses to up skill their workforces.

With our proven track record of working closely with businesses, Gateshead College was the only college to receive money from the two funds to support workforce development programmes.

Some of these funds will help get unemployed people back to work. The college was able to demonstrate throughout the bidding process, an outstanding track record for delivering high quality pre-employment programmes for companies, including Go North East, Vantec and intu’s Retail Gold; all of which were designed to give jobseekers the skills to secure work.

Central to everything we do at Gateshead College, remains the needs of our learners and the regional business community that we serve.  We are also very clear, however, that this is not an easy route for everyone; we recognise that providing support to learners who are often disenfranchised and disengaged is essential to ensure that there are route ways to success and prosperity for everyone.

My vision is to ensure everyone has the opportunity to access and acquire the skills to get into work and improve their social mobility; knowing of course that this will ultimately, be a potent force to drive the economic success of our region.

Judith Doyle

Principal and CEO of Gateshead College