This is definitely a challenging but exciting time to be stepping into the role of Principal at Newcastle College. While the last few months have been completely unprecedented and not something we could ever have planned for, much of it has shone a spotlight on the role of further education, particularly this week’s announcement from the Chancellor.
Many of the measures announced to save jobs are rightly focused on education and skills training for young people, putting colleges at the forefront of the recovery response and I can confidently say that Newcastle College is ready and able to step up and help the North East bounce back.
Offering employers incentives to take on apprentices is absolutely a positive step. Apprenticeships are really important in terms of employment for young people, offering education and training with a real wage while boosting the workforce of the business. Plus, apprenticeships are available for almost any job role and any sector, so this is a measure which can help most businesses, large or small.
Traineeships also play a vital role in this. For those young people who are less clear about where their passions or their skills lie, they offer the chance to learn the skills and behaviours which will help them transition into the world of work and gain the experience they need. It’s important that we think about the longer term for young people and ensure that they aren’t disadvantaged for a long time to come because of this.
Looking at the bigger picture for the North East, increasing the number of apprentices and trainees will not only boost employment but help to create a pipeline of talent to bridge skills gaps and enable rapid recovery and future growth. This is particularly important in areas such as manufacturing and engineering, construction and of course digital, which is one of Newcastle College’s biggest apprenticeship offers. Until the pandemic hit, the region was focusing on digital growth and we should still be looking ahead towards growth in this vital sector.
Every sector and every business has completely unique needs in terms of skills, whether they need entry level or degree level apprentices. It is vital for Newcastle College to be responsive to what businesses actually need, which is why we work so closely with industry to create our courses and our apprenticeships.
Just one example of this is an accelerated digital degree apprenticeship that we launched last year. It helps people to gain a degree level qualification in just two years rather than the traditional three years it takes to complete a degree, plus they get a wage instead of student debt. That is something which benefits young people as well as employers and it meets the skills needs of so many businesses both in and out of the digital sector.
As a college, our focus is always on ensuring that we can provide young people with the right skills and experience to be able to secure employment in the region, keeping those skills gaps and those employer needs at the forefront of what we offer. Of course, that is a bigger challenge if those jobs aren’t available, so the measures announced by the Chancellor are really important.
My message to employers is – we need you to play your part. Apprentices and trainees are there to work for you and they bring with them new skills and knowledge; they can really boost your business at this time. There are young people ready and waiting to be placed with an employer after lockdown. We have a really dedicated and passionate team who can help with everything from recruitment to training and support and with the added government incentive, now is the time.
Of course, there are some areas missing from this announcement, including the retraining and upskilling of those adults who have already lost their jobs or are facing redundancy.
Statistics are telling us that the North East is one of the country’s hardest hit areas in terms of unemployment from the pandemic and it’s clear that while businesses will need help to recover from the financial impacts, many people now without a job will need help to take their next steps.
While I hope to see some measures announced soon to help them, we are ready to help those adults right now no matter what their situation. It’s important to recognise how daunting it can be to return to education and training as an adult and how important it is for Newcastle College to offer the flexibility to retrain around existing work and family commitments. I would really encourage any adult worried about their next step or feeling left out of the loop with support to come and speak to us about their options. We can help.
Right now, we are preparing to reopen our doors for face-to-face learning in September as safely and securely as possible. It has been a really uncertain few months for everybody and we want to offer some stability and a great learning experience for our new and returning students and apprentices, who will hopefully now be feeling more confident about the future.