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Celebrating careers education in the North East during National Careers Week

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, welcomes the start of National Careers Week 2021.

Today marks the beginning of National Careers Week, a celebration of the importance of good careers guidance, and the resources available to help students make more informed decisions about their futures.

Running from 01-06 March, it’s an opportunity to highlight the role careers guidance has in helping young people prepare for the world of work, as well as shining a light on the many and varied routes to employment.

National Careers Week is also about supporting teachers and educators to access the wealth of free resources available to help them deliver quality careers education in schools and colleges – something the North East LEP has been leading in our region through North East Ambition.

Finally, it provides businesses the chance to engage with students and the education sector about the employment opportunities available for young people within their organisations.

Throughout this week we’ll be highlighting the different ways the North East LEP is working in partnership with education and business to improve young people’s understanding of the world of work.

Each day we’ll focus on a different audience: primary, secondary, higher education, further education, and businesses. We’ll highlight some of the progammes and initiatives led by the North East LEP, and those by our partners in education and industry, that are helping young people make more informed choices about their future.

We’ll highlight the success of the LEP’s Career Benchmarks Primary Pilot, which is raising the aspirations and broadening the horizons of North East primary school pupils. We’ll also share details of North East Opportunities, a new website delivered in partnership with NP11 that provides information for students at school leaving age about traineeships, apprenticeships, T-Levels, further/higher education, and other academic and vocational routes to employment.

Underpinning National Careers Week is its alignment with the Gatsby Benchmarks. The North East LEP was instrumental in delivering the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot in partnership with the Gatsby Foundation, and it’s fantastic to see the benchmarks are now central to the success of careers education in England.

Schools, colleges, universities and businesses are all invited to take part in National Careers Week. Join the conversation on social media using #NCW2021 and don’t forget to visit www.nationalcareersweek.com where you can download toolkits to help promote your involvement.

The North East LEP is proud to support National Careers Week and champion the amazing work done by our educators and business community to improve skills and opportunities for young people.

By helping our students better understand the employment opportunities available in the region – and the pathways to reach them – we will help create more and better jobs for the North East and grow our economy.

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Why businesses need to upskill and reskill to emerge stronger

Throughout the past year, businesses and their employees have had to continuously adjust and adapt. Some organisations have needed to pivot or drastically re-think business plans and many companies, large and small, now need to ‘do more with less’. Whether that’s as a result of a reduced workforce, a strain on finances or a more challenging operating environment, there are few who can say it’s ‘business as usual’.

Joe Hedley, Assistant Director of Sales and Business Development at Northumbria University, explains the growing need to upskill and reskill employees to ensure that businesses remain efficient, effective and competitive in a post-COVID world.

How has Covid-19 affected businesses’ skills, capacity and ability to deliver?

Since the start of the pandemic, our ability to make choices has diminished. Many businesses have been unable to recruit at a time when they arguably most need new skills to survive and adapt.

Undoubtedly, employees with a diverse skillset are more valuable right now. In many cases, those in senior positions are being called upon to do more as a result of changing demands, increased business pressures or lower-level roles having been furloughed. However, these additional responsibilities don’t always come with the necessary training and support.

Conversely, some businesses are overwhelmed with new and growing opportunities as a result of the pandemic but are similarly struggling to support employees as they try to adapt and cope.

No matter what the challenges or opportunities, COVID-19 forced most companies to change the way they work almost overnight. Consequently, employees now need new or different skills in order to deliver effectively in the long term.

What’s the difference between reskilling and upskilling?

To reskill is to retrain someone in a completely new skillset in order to deliver a different role, whereas upskilling involves learning additional skills to improve an existing skillset.

Why is it so important to upskill and reskill staff right now?

History tells us that in times of crises, successful businesses use recovery as an opportunity to learn and innovate; to re-evaluate what customers want and how to provide it; and to make critical changes to how they are organised and work. These companies reportedly outgrow their peers nearly fourfold. Driving forward in this way means businesses become purpose-built for the new future.

As a result of the digital revolution, and long before the pandemic, it was estimated that 7 out of 10 workers across all sectors needed to upskill their digital capabilities. With the arrival and subsequent challenges of COVID-19, the influence of digital technologies has been dramatically accelerated – compounding the need for new and improved digital skills in every area of the economy.

The full social and economic impacts of COVID (after all, it is not over yet!) are still very much unknown. New problems and new opportunities are yet to be presented and therefore the need for us to adapt, improve and change our skillsets – and retrain where necessary – will become part of the ‘new normal’ for businesses and individuals alike.

How can Universities help?

Drawing on research-rich education, universities like Northumbria can provide a tailored approach to equipping organisations large and small, across all sectors, with the right skills. From degree apprenticeships and continuous professional development, to new product development partnerships and bespoke collaborations, the University can help businesses understand and solve their evolving skills needs (and gaps) so that they’re able to successfully deliver new business models in a post-COVID world.

Read Northumbria University’s Partner of Choice supplement, with the University’s latest business news and information on how research can drive business growth, here.

Find out more about why improving skills in the North East workfore is fundamental to our economic future.

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A show of resilience: apprenticeships shift to an online world

This National Apprenticeship Week, North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Skills Director, Michelle Rainbow, celebrates the resilience of the people who have continued to deliver apprenticeships throughout 2020.  

As it’s National Apprenticeship Week, I wanted to take a moment to really thank all the apprentices, business and training providers who have worked so hard to overcome the challenges brought by the past year.

Of course, the pandemic meant that everyone has faced significant changes to the way we work and learn. While it’s been unavoidable that some businesses have had to pause their recruitment of apprentices, or place existing apprentices on furlough, I’ve been incredibly impressed with the efforts people have taken to adapt to an online world.

Training providers shifted to virtual delivery with impressive speed, meaning apprentices could continue to learn. And businesses have changed the way they operate to enable apprentices to continue with on-site learning where possible – take a look at some examples from maritime crane manufacturer Liebherr-Sunderland, and Newcastle’s NEL Fund Managers.

Of course, many businesses have needed extra support during 2020 and we’ve seen an uplift in businesses applying for funding and support which is available from government to help employers deliver apprenticeships. It’s part of our job as the North East LEP to make sure that businesses know about the support available to them and I was really happy to see nearly 200 people at our online North East Ambition event this week, which included a presentation from the Skills Funding Agency on the range of support available for businesses which want to take on an apprentice.

We also work closely with schools and colleges to help make sure that young people are aware of the full range of routes they can take when they leave school – including A levels, T levels, university and apprenticeships.

Of course, not all apprentices are school-leavers, and the relatively new degree-level apprenticeship has proven to be a popular way for existing staff to upskill or reskill. We’re seeing a good take-up of these apprenticeships here in the North East, with people choosing to combine degree-level learning with workplace experience, and I hope this will continue to grow as we move through 2021.

As businesses across our region plan their recovery from the impact of COVID-19, I’d love to see more businesses thinking about what their future skills needs are, and whether these might have changed in the last year. Apprentices bring so much to a business including a fresh perspective and the latest skills, so if you know that your business needs to build on its digital capabilities, for example, apprenticeships could be one way of bringing these skills in, or upskilling your existing team.

It’s a testament to the dedication and resilience of our region’s apprentices, businesses and learning providers that we’re still seeing apprentices complete their training during the pandemic. As we begin a new year, I hope we can build on this achievement and offer more young people the opportunity to learn at the same time as gaining hands-on experience in the workplace. And ultimately, by building our apprenticeship offer, we will build a skilled workforce for the future, and help to bring more and better jobs to our region.

For more information on apprenticeships, visit the North East Growth Hub’s Apprenticeship Toolkit.

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Investing in a sustainable future through apprenticeships

The Liebherr Group is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of construction machinery, employing nearly 50,000 colleagues globally. The Group’s Sunderland site is part of its maritime division, manufacturing maritime cranes for use in port environments on ships and offshore rigs. Liebherr-Sunderland Managing Director, Ralph Saelzer, explains how the business continued with its successful apprenticeship programme throughout 2020.

How many apprentices does the Liebherr Group have in Sunderland?

In Sunderland we employ 180 people, and 23 of those are apprentices. Apprentices at the Liebherr Group take on a whole spectrum of roles and at our Sunderland site the majority are in shop floor roles like welding and fabrication. We also have apprentice roles in quality engineering and dispatch, and there are opportunities for staff to take on degree-level apprenticeships – three of our team have already completed a degree apprenticeship in leadership and management with Sunderland University.

What challenges did you and your apprentices face during COVID-19 and how did you overcome them?

When the pandemic hit, the question was whether we could continue to provide training on site for our apprentices. And could our apprentices still work alongside experienced staff in a meaningful way? It became clear that we could introduce the necessary social distancing and other precautions and still be able to carry on.

Another question was whether our training providers, like SETA, who we work with very closely, were still operating. We verified that they were, and that some of the training would now take place over Zoom. So we haven’t faced too much real disruption, we have just had to change the format of what we do, and people have had no problems with adhering to the guidelines.

What value do your apprentices bring to the business?

The value is immeasurable. Our apprenticeship scheme means that we can counteract any problems that might arise due to an ageing workforce, or difficulty in recruiting skilled tradespeople. This way we train our own staff and we bring skilled young people into the business. Apprenticeships aren’t a cost, they are an investment into a sustainable future.

What advice for other businesses hoping to work with apprentices potentially during lockdown?

It would be a big, big mistake to stop offering apprenticeships. It’s crucial that companies are still prepared to invest in apprenticeships despite the current situation – what you don’t invest in now, you will miss tomorrow.

Find information and guidance for businesses on hiring an apprentice on the North East Growth Hub.

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Delivering apprenticeships during the coronavirus pandemic

Abigail Cook joined NEL Fund Managers in 2017 as a Level 2 Administration Apprentice. On completion of her Level 2, Abigail immediately progressed to Level 4, which she successfully completed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Yvonne Gale, Chief Executive Officer of NEL Fund Managers, and Abigail Cook, Investment Associate at NEL Fund Managers, discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on apprenticeships, and how organisations have adapted to ensure apprentices and employers continue to benefit from this important route to employment.

Yvonne Gale, Chief Executive Officer

What immediate impact did the coronavirus pandemic have on the delivery of Abigail’s apprenticeship?

At the time when the coronavirus pandemic began, Abigail was right at the end of her Level 4 apprenticeship. At that stage there’s a final completion assessment that includes observation in the workplace.

Obviously that couldn’t happen, so the main disruption was the timescale for moving Abigail onto her Level 7 apprenticeship. We couldn’t get the paperwork signed off on Level 4, so we couldn’t get her enrolled for Level 7.

We were also in the process of moving to a new specialist training provider who could deliver Level 7. The new provider was unable to enroll Abigail onto the new apprenticeship programme until they had official sign off the Level 4 NVQ, and that was on a backlog of around six-eight weeks.

It was just unlucky timing as that was in March/April 2020.

Did NEL Fund Managers benefit from continuing the apprenticeship during the coronavirus pandemic?

Abigail is currently in a developmental role and we know it’s really important that she keeps getting opportunities to learn so putting her apprenticeship on hold could have affected its momentum and her motivation. We were keen COVID-19 didn’t disrupt that and that we could keep it moving forward.

I actually spent a lot of time working with the new training provider, Kaplan, to make sure it could continue. During the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic everything was temporarily disrupted and for people in a developmental role it’s important they don’t feel like they’re going to be left on the sidelines. Apprenticeships could have been something that was easily left on the shelf but we didn’t want to do that; we felt it was really important to keep pushing to make sure it continued.

Why has NEL Fund Managers chosen to invest in apprenticeships?

There are multiple reasons. NEL Fund Managers does a lot of technical work and we need technical skills. Whilst the Level 4 apprenticeship has given Abigail a good grounding we spotted an opportunity for her to move from an administration role to a technical role.

Although we do a lot of learning in the workplace, I think it’s really important people have external learning as well. People in a developmental role will bring improvements to processes as they go, so if they’re only learning in the workplace, where are they going to get that knowledge? We really want people to experience that cross-pollination from training in the workplace in addition to the external perspectives offered through an apprenticeship.

Another reason is that NEL Fund Managers focuses a lot of emphasis on staff retention; over 50% of our staff has been with us for ten years or more. You can’t just assume people will stay, you have to offer them progression and the best way to do that is through training. We’ve got a very long history of that at NEL Fund Managers; everyone in the business has done a lot of training. We’re keen to support people who want to continue to learn and develop because we want to keep those members of staff and we want to keep their skills too.

The other benefit is that apprenticeships offer a structured programme and for small businesses, it’s quite difficult to deliver a three-year structured training programme. Going onto a planned apprenticeship means someone takes on the care of that structured programme for us, and makes sure it happens.

Abigail’s apprenticeship is in accounting and we have several accountants here in the business and that have all learnt through the apprenticeship route. We know it works and there’s tradition there. Because we benefitted from it, we want the next generation to benefit from it too.

Abigail Cook, Investment Associate

What changes did you have to adapt to in order to complete your Level 4 during lockdown?

Towards the end of my Level 4 there was a series of final observations that had to be done. My assessor, Olivia, couldn’t come and visit in person so we had to think of new ways to get the observations done, and that was mainly through Zoom and Microsoft Teams. We had professional discussions that were then recorded and uploaded to the portal that stores evidence of all my work.

I redid one module for my technical certificate and found I actually had more time to do research as I had fewer personal commitments because of lockdown.

Did you find it challenging to move to a home learning / working model?

It wasn’t necessarily challenging, just very different. I’m mainly office based unless I’m attending meetings, and my bedroom has turned into a home office, which is working well now. There were some challenges at the beginning with parents and younger siblings all working/studying from home, and we invested in some new WIFI.

A lot of the work we do at NEL Fund Managers, such as getting wet signatures on documents and having investment files signed off, had to be adapted to be digitised, and that took a lot of work initially. But since then it’s a case of pressing a button and sending it off via email to someone. It was challenging at first but we’ve all adapted to the new processes we’ve developed.

Doing some of the technical learning at home has been hard as normally you might want to sit with someone to go through it. When we are doing revision sharing now it’s about sharing screens on Teams. As a learner I’d prefer to do some of that in person.

The Zoom sessions we’ve been doing have been really interactive but it’s not quite the same as being sat in a classroom being able to ask your peers questions.

Yvonne Gale – We actually picked Kaplan as they were the only training provider that could offer us classroom learning in Newcastle. It’s a three-year programme so I’m hopeful we can go back to a classroom model. Abigail, and our other accounting apprentice, Mike, actually requested classroom learning when we were looking at providers so it’s a shame we’re not able to offer people their preferred method of learning at the moment.

Why did you choose to complete an apprenticeship over another route to employment?

I originally went to sixth form after doing my GCSEs to study AS levels but after my first year I questioned why I was doing them. At the time I also had a part time job and was enjoying the work ethic, as oppose to full-time study.

I saw the Level 2 apprenticeship advertised at NEL Fund Managers and even though it was a very different environment, after my interview I thought ‘yes, I’d like to work here’. Thankfully Yvonne and Suzanne took me on, which was great.

An apprenticeship allows me work and earn whilst I’m studying. Being in secure employment – as opposed to a university experience with a part time job and a lot of debt – seemed really attractive to me.

It was also encouraging to learn other people in NEL Fund Managers have been apprentices as well. That showed me there is a lot of scope for development here and NEL Fund Managers – as an employer – are very encouraging.

Yvonne Gale – Abigail has gone from working part time in hospitality to doing a postgraduate qualification in four years – and she’s skipped all the student debt.

The apprenticeship system really works for us as an employer too. The course she’s currently doing – had we been paying that ourselves – would cost £20k. For a small business that’s a huge amount of money. Because of the apprenticeship system we’ve been able to get that for 5% of the cost – so it costs us £1k for a £20k piece of training.

And Abigail is getting £20k worth of training, and she’s not having to pay for it.

What are your career aspirations moving forward?

Ideally I’d like to move into more of an investment executive role, managing my own investment opportunities and working with yet more growing local businesses. I’m definitely getting the skills I need through my apprenticeship. The amount I’ve learned is really helping me develop in my current role.

I’d like to finish the current apprenticeship in the next three years and move into a permanent investment executive role. In the long term I’d like to continue at NEL Fund Managers and see what other progression opportunities there are.

Find information and guidance for businesses on hiring an apprentice on the North East Growth Hub Apprenticeship Toolkit.

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Navigating the journey from school to work: finding the way in a changing world

Flexible working, digitalisation and short term contracts – as the world of work changes, how can schools and employers make sure young people are equipped to navigate the full range of options open to them? Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) takes a look at some of the challenges and opportunities.

“In a world where job opportunities and patterns of working are changing fast, the need for increased access to different forms of career learning and careers guidance is critical.” – Youth Employment UK.

As the independent social enterprise Youth Employment UK said in its annual Youth Voice census report, which gauges how young people of all backgrounds feel about education, training, experience, work and prospects in the UK today, the world of work is changing.

Young people who leave education have a much broader range of options that we may have done when we entered the workplace. The skills and attributes needed in today’s workplace have changed and are as equally important as qualifications, as roles evolve to reflect the opportunities due to AI and digitalisation. And young people have a host of new ways of communicating with potential employers, and of gaining experience of work – especially in light of COVID-19, as we see more employers making use of virtual tours and online content matched to curriculum.

Apprenticeships, self-employment, traineeships, or further study at college or university are just some of the options open to students who are moving on from school. Working patterns are changing as well, with a rise in flexible working, short term roles and portfolio careers, and it’s vital that we help young people to understand and navigate these changes and to be able to view them as positive.

All of this means that schools and employers face new challenges when it comes to helping young people understand the range of options open to them, and giving them the confidence to articulate their goals and hopes for the future.

So how can we work together as a region to give our future workforce the best possible start in their careers?

Here in the North East, the skills team at the North East LEP works in partnership with employers and training providers, and with more than 200 schools, from Northumberland to County Durham.

We partner with business leaders who form our network of Enterprise Advisers – people who volunteer their time and knowledge to work with leadership teams in local schools to bring work and education closer together. And we run regular Careers Leaders meetings where we share the latest information on the labour market and trends in the way we work in our region.

We know that many schools in our region are already doing fantastic work when it comes to careers guidance, but we’re also very aware of the pressure schools are under right now as they deliver online learning at the same time as welcoming vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers into school.

That’s why the support we get from employers is vital and we are very grateful for it.

As the pandemic put limits on in-person work experience, we saw a rise in virtual tours and video footage, which can be a great way of bringing the workplace into the classroom and giving pupils a real life insight into different roles within your business. And of course there are benefits to your business as well, as you build better links with your future workforce and raise awareness of exciting opportunities in your sector.

From large corporations to SMEs and micro-businesses, employers of all sizes and in all sectors can play a role in helping young people navigate their options.

If you want to get involved  you can find out more about the North East LEP’s work with schools and employers here

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North East LEP begins valuable knowledge exchange with Ingolstadt

A virtual meeting between a delegation from Ingolstadt and a coalition of North East leaders is the latest in a series of partnerships set up by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to share experiences and ideas in a bid to tackle global skills challenges.

Senior representatives from the Ingolstadt Region will meet with members of the North East LEP, CBI, Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Education, Nexus and New College Durham, following discussions between the North East LEP and the British Embassy in Berlin over the last six months.

Ingolstadt has a similar framework to the North East LEP in terms of determining economic priorities and leading economic growth and job creation within the local area.

Those involved will consider the common challenges facing today’s globalised world, from education and skills, transport and climate change through to energy, digitalisation and the future of industry.

Lucy Winskell, chair of the North East LEP, said: “No single organisation has the answer to the big challenges faced by businesses and society right now. Pooling talent, thinking, experiences and resources is the right way to find solutions to shared issues.

“We’re thrilled to be building what will hopefully be a valuable long-term relationship with Ingolstadt, which like us is home to a thriving automotive industry and has many other commonalities.”

The North East LEP has long been a proponent of shared learning. It led the Gatsby Foundation National Career Benchmarks pilot which was based on research carried out in the Netherlands, Germany, Hong Kong, Finland, Canada and Ireland. The benchmarks have since been adopted as part of the Government’s careers strategy for schools and colleges, resulting in transformational changes to their careers programmes.

Its post-pilot work included providing support to the Barcelona City region and Welsh Government when they began the benchmarks’ implementation process, as well as hosting delegations from Hong Kong keen to learn more.

When the Government published its post-16 skills plan and independent report on technical education, the North East LEP visited Finland to gain a better understanding of its vocational education system and cascade best practice back.

Members of the team have attended Cities of the Future symposiums with delegates from around the world looking at skills for the future and fusion skills. Its involvement with the Ford Next Generation Learning Programme in Nashville has been a particular success.

Michelle Rainbow, the North East LEP’s skills director, said: “We are very much looking forward to meeting our peers from Ingolstadt and exchanging ideas and insight.

“From our involvement in the pioneering Ford Next Generation Learning Programme which is helping transform student attainment through industry links, through to the Gatsby Benchmarks, we have so much to share and know that our fellow leaders will too.”

Jill Gallard CMG, British Ambassador in Berlin, said: “Reducing carbon dioxide emissions at home and abroad in our COP26 presidency year is one of the government’s top priorities, as is the levelling up agenda. I am really pleased to see the North East sharing its experience of creating new jobs manufacturing electric vehicles with Ingolstadt and both sides learning from each other’s best practice on skills and training policies.”

Johannes Kolb, Area Director of Ingolstadt’s Agency for Employment, said: “I am looking forward to the exchange with colleagues from the North East of England. We can compare and learn from our respective labour market and skills policies – both within and outside the automotive sector.”

Jack Stallworthy, Policy Officer for Labour, Education, Health and Social Affairs, said: “It has been a delight to work with the North East LEP and Ingolstadt partners on the exchange. The North East has an exciting story to tell on preparing the workforce for working on electric vehicles.”

While the initial meetings are taking place virtually, it is hoped delegates from the North East will be able to travel to Ingolstadt to see activity in practice when it is safe to travel.

Read more about the  North East LEP’s plans for skills, employment, inclusion and progression here.

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In conversation with Liz Bromley, CEO of leading national college group NCG

How has NCG, and the broader education sector in the North East, had to adapt and change as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?

Since the start of the pandemic there have been many policy changes. These have fluctuated from ‘colleges are open’ and ‘colleges are closed’ to ‘colleges are partially closed but open to vulnerable students and children of key workers’. Following this last lockdown, the category of vulnerable young learners has expanded to include those that have limited access to IT or study space.

We’ve been really challenged by the constant changes in guidance and we’ve had to make sure that whatever the scenario, we can continue with the core business of educating our students without it being too difficult for them to engage with us.

The biggest shift has been digital transformation; we’re now able to teach 100 per cent remotely, in the same way we can work 100 per cent remotely. We’ve had to be really mindful that while most staff have access to good quality laptops, strong broadband connections and IT support, that’s not necessarily the case for all our students. So we’ve had to be fleet of foot and responsive to policy changes, but also really holistic in terms of thinking about what digital transformation means.

We’ve also had to adapt where it comes to exams. In 2020 GCSE and A Levels were cancelled. We were then told, categorically, that GSCE and A Levels would take place in summer 2021, and now we’ve been told that they won’t.

Throughout all of this we’ve been delivering vocational skills and BTECs – which are quite often the ones employers are most interested in – and they’ve almost been forgotten about. Ultimately, we’ve had to make some really big decisions to fill the gaps in guidance and policy.

Do you envisage some of the changes continuing when COVID-19 restrictions are eventually lifted?

Absolutely. Rye Hill House – which sits at the top of the campus of Newcastle College – is where my office is, along with the rest of the NCG senior and core central services teams. We’ve done some sums in terms of how much money we can save by not running that site as a head office anymore and actually opening it up to employers, to apprentices and to enterprise. Yes, people will still be able to go into the office, but it will be a hot desk environment.

NCG has seven colleges; two in London, one in the Midlands, two in the North West and two in North East. I would normally get round and visit each of those sites over the course of a fortnight. Well now I can visit them all in one day, and I can do all of that without spending anything on mileage, train fares, or hotel costs. The way we work now is much more cost effective, and much quicker.

The combined effect is that NCG is contributing to the green agenda by creating less vehicle emissions, using less electricity and gas to keep our buildings warm, and not travelling, unnecessarily, around the country. All of those things are making us think about cost efficiency, decarbonisation and contributing to the green industrial revolution.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted teaching and learning at NCG?

If a year ago someone had said to me, ‘do you think you should set up a strategic project to try and get NCG into blended learning and flexible working?’, it would probably have taken us around 24-36 months to roll it out.

In March 2020 the country went into lockdown and within ten days we were teaching remotely. We were also working remotely and becoming competent at this. That whole mindset around big strategic decisions taking years to implement has changed; through necessity we’ve proven this is not the case.

Our fantastic teachers, who may have never thought online tuition was a feasible option, are doing fabulous things with online platforms. Many of them are using YouTube, for example, to record videos of themselves cutting hair, applying beauty techniques, dancing, and even building brick walls. All our teachers have learned how to deliver what they do in a classroom at home, with a camera.

I think the pandemic has demonstrated that teaching and learning is there for all of us. Even when we’re working we can learn very quickly to educate ourselves and work in new ways.

Of course we’ve had to be really conscious of the quality. When everything is face-to-face it’s very easy to drop into a classroom and look at students’ faces and know if they’re engaged. Online it’s much harder, so we’ve had to be inventive in terms of our quality assurance. We’ve launched lots of student engagement surveys so we’re getting feedback in a variety of ways to make sure the teaching and learning is fit for purpose.

Until the coronavirus pandemic there were just two functional skills our students needed, maths and English. Well now there are three – English, maths and digital literacy. We’re now in a world where if you are not digitally literate you are as illiterate as someone that can’t spell or add up. The whole area of digital literacy in helping people become employable is another change to our teaching and learning.

The big question is what this means for the future curriculum and skills. What are jobs post-pandemic and post-Brexit going to look like? They’re certainly not going to look how they did twelve months ago. What happens to our travel, tourism and hospitality sector, for example? These are all things we are focusing on and need to address.

Has the coronavirus pandemic led to a change in the skills and/or qualifications businesses are looking for?

There are some great examples of this. In the construction industry, for example – where you might think digital literacy isn’t as important – we are now considering the shape of construction of the future and more sustainable methods of building. The green agenda very much impacts on the way we think about architecture and constructions materials of the future.

The same discussion is happening around motor vehicles and today’s focus has changed to electric. And where we have our Rail Academy, we need to be thinking about hydrogen trains of the future.

We’ve been having some very interesting conversations around travel and tourism. What if tourism trends focus on staycations? How do we recalibrate the curriculum to adapt to a post-COVID world where more people are conscious about the impacts of travel, and might want to focus more on the UK as a holiday destination.

In short, the pandemic has caused us to reframe our curriculum so that it absolutely meets regional and employers’ needs. We need businesses to help shape this so we can provide them with graduates who are employable and have the right technical skills for a future world.

How can colleges and the education sector support the economic recovery of the North East?

Education is an important gap filler when people are unemployed, but to make it more than that we need to make sure we’re reskilling and up-skilling people. We need to understand what employers see as the skills gaps and educate people to fill them.

We also need to think about skills for the workplace, which many of our young people are simply not learning because they’re working from home. For a huge number of new school leavers and new graduates, their first job is in their bedroom. They’re not learning skills like how to contribute in meetings, how to take notes, how to respond to body language and other non verbal cues from managers and senior staff members. They’re not learning about the politics of the office.

It’s not just about the technical skills for the workplace, it’s also about making sure that young people are really ready to engage in a professional context. Again, we need employers to help us with that.

How can businesses in the North East work more closely with NCG?

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve repurposed Rye Hill House so it now houses our Apprenticeship Hub, Enterprise Hub and our new Synergy Hub.

The Synergy Hub is where we really want employers from the Newcastle and Gateshead area to come in and interact with our staff, students, and curriculum developers so they’re helping us deliver the right curriculum to match the business need.

We are looking at being far more open and inviting employers to come in and really be at the heart of the curriculum offer. We want to work in partnership with businesses and big employers to create national apprenticeship schemes with lots of options for different qualifications at different levels.

Further education is being mooted as the key to economic recovery post Brexit and post-COVID. But we can’t be the key to economic recovery if we aren’t doing it in partnership with employers. For me, having employers at the heart of what we do, what we plan, and how we deliver our curriculum, is absolutely essential.

We’re really keen for employers to contact us and talk to us about their wants, their needs, their ideas, and we will do our level best to work in partnership to deliver them.

How is NGC supporting the call for a green recovery from COVID-19, inline with government’s green industrial revolution and the UK’s target to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050?

We’re doing it in two ways; one, as an employer of two and a half thousand staff across the country, and two, as an educator of forty five thousand students across the country.

We want to make sure that what we do as an employer and a workforce contributes to the net zero carbon emissions target. We want to travel less, we want to use less building space, and we want to be more innovative in the ways we engage with people.

We also want to teach the courses of the future that will enable our students to think greener and more sustainably. For example, opening up courses that focus on conservation, agriculture, woodland management, and considering how a green industrial revolution feeds into construction, automotive, rail, travel and tourism, and the food and catering parts of our offer.

How do we reframe our energy courses so they’re looking at more sustainable energy sources, like wind farming and subsea, and less at traditional methods?

So I think we do it both ways; by practicing what we teach by being a good workforce and a good employer, but also teaching what is needed to make sure this green revolution is supported by the FE sector.

Liz Bromley is CEO of leading national college group NCG.

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North East LEP welcomes Government’s Skills for Jobs white paper

The North East LEP welcomes the Skills for Jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth white paper published by the Department for Education today [Thursday 21 January 2021].

The white paper sets out reforms to post-16 technical education and training to support people to develop the skills needed to get good jobs and improve national productivity.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East LEP, said: “We are particularly pleased to see that the reforms take into consideration some of those recommended from the Independent Commission for the Future of Colleges. It’s crucial that employers are given a pivotal role in working with general further education colleges, other training providers and local stakeholders to meet local and regional skill needs, and ultimately achieve our ambition of more and better jobs.

“This, together with the spotlight on technical education and announcement of a flexible lifetime skills guarantee enables us to continue to build upon existing partnerships in the North East LEP area. We are well placed to support and drive this agenda owing to our Chair of Board, Lucy Winskell and Skills Advisory Panel Chair, Ellen Thinnesen, being local and national leaders in the Higher and Further Education sectors respectively. It also enables us to build upon our investment into the region’s first Institute of Technology.”

Kim Smith, College Hub Facilitator, added: “Engagement between education and enterprise is a key strength across employer stakeholders and educational partners in the North East LEP area and we look forward to hearing more about the trailblazer opportunities for piloting local skills improvement plans and establishing College Business Centres.”

For more information, and to read the Skills for jobs white paper in full, visit gov.uk.