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North East businesses helping young people at risk of long-term unemployment into work

Employers in the North East are helping young people at risk of long term unemployment take their first steps into the workplace.

Businesses including Sunderland-based automotive manufacturer Unipres have signed up to the Kickstart Scheme, which provides funding to employers to create six month job placements for people aged between 16 and 24 who are receiving Universal Credit.

Unipres currently employs 35 Kickstart trainees and has plans to recruit five more in the next few weeks.

Rob Dodds, Apprentice Coordinator at Unipres, explained: “The reason we got involved is that it’s an ideal opportunity to give young people a chance to gain valuable experience in the workplace.

“They’re indispensable to the business as well – it’s another form of recruitment for us and these are the future stars. It’s a win-win situation for the business and for the trainees.”

The Kickstart Scheme offers funding to cover the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions. Funding is also available to support young people to develop new skills and to help them move into sustained employment after they have completed their Kickstart-funded job.

20-year-old Ehsan Izadi, who is working as part of the Quality Assurance team at Unipres, said: “I was working in a pizza shop but when COVID came around, the shop was closed. I was looking for a job and saw the opportunity with Unipres. It was easy to apply through the job centre and it was a big opportunity for me.

“I like learning and improving my CV – if you have six months experience at Unipres it’s really important for your CV.”

Another North East business taking part in the Kickstart scheme is Northumbrian Water. Kay Penney, Human Resources Director at Northumbrian Water, said: “When the Kickstart Scheme was announced by the Government, we jumped at the opportunity to support young people to increase their employment prospects.

“So many of our workforce have come to us as young people, taking their first steps in the world of work, or returning to employment after enforced breaks, and they have become valuable employees playing important roles in our business.

“The jobs market is a very competitive place at the moment, whatever experience you have, but we know many young people are really finding it hard to get a break. We hope that the experience, learning and qualification they get from coming to us through the Kickstart Scheme will give them a valuable step up.”

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, added: “Through Kickstart, businesses can help young people gain skills and experience that will help them to avoid long-term unemployment.

“And of course, support like this is especially important now, as so many young people have seen their plans affected by the pandemic. The fact that the North East business community has the opportunity to step up and help young people avoid unemployment is fantastic.”

Joanne Jobling, Service Leader for DWP in Northumberland, Tyne & Wear said:

“Kickstart has already made a remarkable difference to the lives of many young people – with the support of businesses, we want to maximise the impact of Kickstart in the North East, changing more lives for the better and supporting our economy now and in the future. We are working closely with the North East LEP and other key partners to encourage as many young people as possible to contact their local jobcentre to apply for the fantastic opportunities that are being created.”

Businesses in the North East can apply to join the Kickstart Scheme through the North East Growth Hub. Businesses can also register to join an online event by the IoD North East on 30 June, explaining more about Kickstart. Register for a free place here.

Kickstart vacancies in the North East will be advertised via northeastopportunities.co.uk.

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Universities in the North East vow to help region bounce back stronger from COVID-19

Universities, employers, and local leaders will be working together to create thousands of local jobs as the recovery from the pandemic gathers pace.

New research published by Universities UK (UUK), ‘Universities and the UK’s economic recovery: an analysis of future impact’, which was compiled by the National Centre for Entrepreneurship in Education (NCEE), predicts that over the next five years universities in the North East will:

  • Be involved in research projects with partners worth almost £1 billion.
  • Help 725 new businesses and charities to be formed.
  • Train over 10,000 nurses, almost 4,000 medics and 8,000 teachers.

The research is published as UUK launches #GettingResults – a campaign to put universities at the heart of the economic and social recovery – with a renewed commitment from universities to do even more to reach out to new partners locally and nationally and deliver even greater impact than currently estimated.

The work is being overseen by a newly created Universities UK Economic and Social Taskforce, which is led by Professor Chris Day, Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University, and a board member of Universities UK.

Professor Day said:

“Universities are at the heart of the nation’s recovery from the pandemic. Over the past year we have seen first-hand what can be achieved through strong collaboration between our universities and their partners.

“Now universities want to do more, to help the UK to bounce back stronger, with opportunity and prosperity spread across the country. We are looking to form strategic partnerships with employers and sector bodies throughout the UK to strengthen collaboration between universities and their partners.

“A great example of this is the Newcastle Helix, a £350m development with 2,600 jobs in 65 different organisations on the site. This true coming together of academia, business, public sector and more has been innovating and collaborating to support the global fight against COVID-19. Not only to combat the immediate impacts but preparing cities and regions for our post-covid world.”

Throughout the pandemic, businesses, and a wide range of sectors not just within the North East region, but across the UK, have suffered greatly, leading to economic and social damage. The contributions made by universities and their students through knowledge and skills exchange, partnerships and support for local employers have huge potential to help businesses, industries, and other partners to continue, recover and thrive following the pandemic.

The skills of graduates from Newcastle, Durham, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside universities will also have an important role to play in the future success of businesses and sectors during the Covid-19 recovery process.

  • Newcastle University has been running bootcamps for student or graduate entrepreneurs.  One successful enterprise has been the creation of the ‘Spareable‘ app which enables individuals to donate to their local food bank remotely to save time and food waste. The platform is now providing 25% more food for food banks and its founder – Electronic Business and Information Systems MSc graduate Masitano Sichone – was recently named a ‘Top 100 Changemaker 2020 Defeating Poverty.’
  • Durham University, Sphera UK is a student spinout based in Stockton-on-Tees that is focussed on developing carbon zero and carbon negative concrete blocks. Their innovation pipeline includes a concrete accelerant to speed up concrete curing rate and decrease cement content. These pioneering solutions are developed to help tackle climate change by offering the industry low carbon material alternatives that specifically focus on embodied carbon content.
  • Newcastle Business School, at Northumbria University, has worked with the Small Business Charter over the past year to provide a government-funded programme for leaders of small businesses across the North of England to survive and thrive following the Covid-19 pandemic. Through this Small Business Leadership programme Northumbria supported more than 180 businesses across the North East and Cumbria. Based on its success, Northumbria has now been selected as the only university in the region to deliver a follow-up programme called Help to Grow Management. The new programme is backed by £150 million of additional Government funding to help up to 30,000 SMEs across the UK – including a significant number in the North East.
  • Over the past year, Teesside University has assisted more than 220 small and medium sized businesses with 339 projects. It has also helped launch 11 new businesses, worked with a total of 34 start-ups, and prepared 26 budding entrepreneurs through the Microbiz Academy programme. The University has also matched 156 graduate interns with work in Tees Valley businesses and provided digital skills training for 276 people.
  • The University of Sunderland has recently established the new £1.6million Digital Incubator at St Peter’s Campus, which is already playing a key role in supporting entrepreneurial students who want to establish their own online businesses, many of which will be based in the north-east.

Durham University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge said:

“At Durham University we’ve been part of the North East landscape for nearly 200 years and we make a significant positive contribution to the regional economy.

“We’re proud of the support we offer our academics and students in their launching of innovative businesses here in the North East, creating high-quality jobs and driving the economy. From electrochemical wound healing to efficient electrical circuits in space, our departments are at the forefront of innovation.”

Professor Andrew Wathey CBE, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Northumbria University, said:

“We are more strongly enthused than ever by our roles as anchor institutions, as major employers and as key partners in driving regional economic and social recovery. It has never been more important, given the enormous challenges created by Covid-19, and the huge opportunities to shape the North East’s economic landscape through our research and our graduates, that we work together to address need and maximise impact.

“We know that Northumbria’s investments in high-level skills, research, entrepreneurship and economic growth, and improving employment opportunities, are key to helping the North East build forward better and shape a better future.  As the largest provider of graduates in the North East’s professional and managerial jobs market we are also strongly placed to deliver highly-skilled graduates to the regional workforce as it grows, modernises and develops.”

Sir David Bell KCB DL, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, said: “As we begin to rebuild from the pandemic, the role of universities is more relevant than ever.

“Data released recently in Research England’s first Knowledge Exchange Framework revealed the University of Sunderland to be in the top 10% of universities nationally for contributing to local growth and regeneration, through projects like the Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) initiative, which has just been evaluated as contributing a gross £43 million to the regional economy.”

Teesside University Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Professor Paul Croney said:

“Teesside University has worked tirelessly during the pandemic to support and strengthen communities.

“The University has offered skills, expertise, facilities and time, producing much needed PPE, training healthcare workers, bolstering the frontline and volunteer response and enabling businesses to pivot to online operating models. Our commitment to working in partnership to deliver social impact powers our mission to transform lives and economies, and we will continue to deliver this as we support the UK to build back better.”

Find out more about Universities UK’s #GettingResults campaign www.universitiesuk.ac.uk.

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In conversation with Linda Conlon, Chief Executive of the International Centre for Life, about inspiring young people through careers education

The world of work today is very different to the one I first joined. It’s estimated young people can expect to change careers between five and seven times, and at least two of those will not be of their choosing. Looking back with what may be rose-tinted glasses, it seemed easier to move around and experience different jobs when I began my career.

I think if I was looking to offer some general advice to young people today it would be to keep your career options open. Don’t close them down before you have to and focus on one specific area.

It’s a positive thing to sample different work environments. I’ve worked for a multinational company, the government, a regional development agency, and for a number of years I ran my own marketing consultancy, which allowed me to work with a range of businesses and clients.

It’s not always about what you do, but the environment that you work in. If you’re happy and comfortable in your chosen environment you feel like you belong, and that gives you the best chance of a fulfilling and rewarding career.

It always strikes me as sad when some people are stuck in jobs they don’t like. You spend more time at work – in normal circumstances – with your work colleagues than you do at home. Why then would you do something you don’t enjoy?

When I was at school, I didn’t really benefit from any specific careers advice; there certainly wasn’t a sustained programme to recognise talent. Someone would come to the school for half a day and ask what you liked doing. I do remember someone saying they wanted to travel and they were advised to be a bus driver.

It was also quite common at the time to choose between arts-based or science-based subjects. Now, people don’t necessarily have to do the classic trio of subjects – maths, physics and chemistry. People can choose to study a mix of subjects that gives them a breadth of knowledge.

It’s really important to introduce people to the world of work from an early stage and that’s something we try to do in the centre’s visitor attraction, Life Science Centre. We offer an informal learning environment and we want to inspire people when they visit, ignite their curiosity and get them thinking in different ways. We encourage people to think creatively and imaginatively. Those skills are important in the world of work, particularly in science.

We have a mantra at Life Science Centre, which is ‘hands on, minds on, hearts on’. I firmly believe people learn better when they’re actively engaged in something that interests them.

It’s also important to say it’s okay to not know what you want to do in the future; people shouldn’t be worried or ashamed about that. Take your time and get it right.

We often talk about change in the workplace, and we’re currently seeing that at an unprecedented rate. That’s why I think young people should be flexible and not take themselves down a route they’re not sure of.

Parents have an important role to play in that, too. Young people often find they move unconsciously down a career path prompted by their parents.

Sadly, stereotypes still prevail in the science and technology sector, and some of that can come from parents, especially those without an interest in the area. That can discourage young people from pursuing STEM subjects, so we need to help students and their parents understand how science qualifications can stand them in good stead across many different careers.

In the gaming sector, for example, a large majority of people have qualifications in maths and physics. Unfortunately, young people don’t often make the connection between those exciting, emerging jobs and science subjects.

I’m often asked about my role within the science sector, and what skills and qualifications it takes to become a chief executive.

The first skill is to learn from your mistakes. We all make them, but it’s how you learn from the experience that’s important. I think it also benefits your staff to see someone in a senior leadership position make a mistake and own up to it. It gives them the courage to do the same.

Something that’s always been, and will continue to be important, is communication. It’s essential to be able to explain to people not just what, but why they’re doing something. When people don’t know what’s happening, they fill in the gaps themselves. Communications is something I feel I have a particular strength in, as I worked in the industry for a long time. I believe communications should be frequent, honest and simple.

Developing effective relationships is vital, too. I think a lot of people forget when you have a relationship with an organisation, it’s with the people within it.

Whilst it might sound obvious, listening skills are very important. If you think about our current situation, senior leaders need to understand how it’s impacting staff, their families and their lives. You only get that from listening.

You also need to take risks, and that’s something we’re very good at in Life. As a not-for-profit independent trust, we have a lot of autonomy and entrepreneurial spirit. We used that to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic to become an NHS large vaccination centre.

Taking risks fits with my next attribute, which is thinking outside the box. Despite being a not-for-profit, we think commercially at Life. By making a profit we can improve and expand the job we do – and do it better. That’s why it’s key to learn from other sectors and other businesses.

If I wasn’t chief executive of Life, I’d like to be either a wildly successful criminal barrister, or a wildly successful crime fiction writer. I’m always told only a small handful of people become successful criminal barristers. I’d definitely want to be one of the rich ones.

Linda Conlon is Chief Executive of the International Centre for Life, which opened in May 2000, with the purpose of inspiring everyone in North East England to explore and enjoy science and to discover its relevance to their own lives.

Linda is the first woman from Europe to be elected as Chair of the Association of Science and Technology Centres (ASTC), a body which represents more than 600 centres from over 50 countries. Linda is also a former board member of Ecsite, the European network of science centres and museums, and former Chair of its UK equivalent.

In recognition of her outstanding service to science and science education in North East England, she was awarded an MBE in January 2016.

www.life.org.uk

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Investing in infrastructure key for North East’s economic recovery

By Darren Laybourn, Director and Regional Strategic Lead at Turner & Townsend, and North East LEP Business Growth Board member.

Manchester’s skyline is often used to illustrate how well the economy is performing in the North West. The sight of tower cranes and new buildings appearing across the city suggests a high level of confidence from inward investors, and a vibrant, growing business community.

The construction industry can be a good indicator of a region’s economic health, which is why there has been so much focus on infrastructure and building back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

During the first national lockdown, the construction sector was one of the few areas of industry able to fully continue working. Government further bolstered the sector by investing millions of pounds in supporting infrastructure projects across the UK, including here in the North East, through the Getting Building Fund.

A booming construction sector gives confidence to the business community, particularly startups and SMEs. It encourages businesses to continue to invest in staff, which is vital in helping retain skills and talent in the region.

The UK’s exit from the EU has brought about new labour regulations that if not managed correctly, may result in a shortage of skills in some areas of the country. At a time when we’re looking to recover quickly from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important we don’t develop a regional cold spot in terms of skills and labour.

The construction industry in the UK accounts for 10% of total UK employment – approximately three million jobs.* It also supports a wider ecosystem including delivery partners, supply chains – even coffee shops that serve workers on their lunch breaks. And it doesn’t stop there. The construction industry is the catalyst for creating new jobs in the longer term too, be that through new office spaces, business parks, enterprise zones, etc.

Cities like Manchester, and Leeds have gained the confidence of investors and the business community. That’s reflected in the amount of investment in new infrastructure projects across both destinations. If we’re going to compete with that we must maintain a good base of capital projects in the region and build back from the coronavirus pandemic.

There are already some fantastic examples of regeneration in North East England. Newcastle Helix has helped grow the region’s health and life science sector by creating an environment where academia and business can collaborate and drive forward innovations in data science, urban science and life science.

In Newcastle upon Tyne, work is beginning at pace on the transformation of East Pilgrim Street. The £100m project will introduce new offices, bars, restaurants, car parks, and housing in the city centre. The first phase of the project will see the creation of a new landmark, 14-storey, Grade A office building.

Across the river in Gateshead, the £290m NewcastleGateshead Quays regeneration scheme is expected to create around 2,000 new jobs in the North East and provide a £60m annual boost to the local economy.

Projects of this scale and ambition have increased confidence in the North East, resulting in more inward investment and more job creation, which maintains and, in some cases, grows those important skills.

The focus of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership on investment and infrastructure is at the heart of the region’s Strategic Economic Plan. Moving forward, we need to continue the successful delivery of funding programmes in the North East – including the Local Growth Fund. We also need to develop a regional project pipeline and support SMEs in the North East to bid for local work.

Earlier this year the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group – which comprises the North East LEP, CBI, North of Tyne and North East Combined Authorities, the region’s universities, with the support of industry – submitted its North East Recovery and Renewal Deal to government, asking for a £2.8bn investment to support the North East’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

Building infrastructure to lead transformation and encourage future investment is a key theme in the deal. It is this that will help the region bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic and support future growth and investment in the North East.

Darren Laybourn is Director and Regional Strategic Lead at Turner & Townsend, and a Business Growth Board member at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

*(source: https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/UK_construction_industry)

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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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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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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.

Home / Skills Schemes

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.

Home / Skills Schemes

In conversation with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Regional Lead – North East Ambition, Matt Joyce; and College Hub Facilitator, Kim Smith, about the new WorldSkills UK Higher Technical Education Toolkit

In July of this year, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a major overhaul of higher technical education in Britain.

The announcement follows a government review that found higher technical education can help unlock the skills employers need and lead to highly skilled, well paid jobs for young people.

Part of the reason for the changes to higher technical education are a result of the low level of uptake in courses, and the outdated perception that this important route to employment is in some way inferior to gaining a degree, which is not the case at all.

One of the biggest differences will be the introduction of a new quality mark, signaling that technical education courses provide the skills employers need. This is really important as it demonstrates the key role industry plays in technical education, and how employer standards sit at their very heart.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership is well placed to promote higher technical education as a prestigious career route for young people thanks to its dedicated College Hub, which comprises all nine general FE Colleges and two of the largest sixth form institutions in North East LEP area. The North East LEP is also committed to the Independent Training Provider network through both the LEP’s Apprenticeship Group and Skills Advisory Panel.

Because of our role in supporting colleges to design and implement quality careers education – including the Good Career Guidance benchmarks – we were approached by The Gatsby Foundation and WorldSkills UK to contribute to their digital careers toolkit, which has a focus on higher technical education. The resource is designed specifically for career leaders, young people, parents and employers.

WorldSkills UK is an independent charity supported by 80 member countries that works to raise the standards in apprenticeships and technical education so more young people get the best start in work and life. We were very proud to be asked to take part and have the opportunity to profile the great work of our further education institutions in the North East.

Newcastle College, New College Durham and Education Partnership North East were invited to contribute to an educational video resource about higher technical education, with each institution providing a unique perspective on the matter. Newcastle College is part of the country’s largest college group and has higher education awarding powers. New College Durham leads the new North East Institute of Technology (IOT) – of which the North East LEP is a key strategic partner – and Education Partnership North East has a strong technical education offer and plays an integral role in influencing the national careers agenda through engagement on National FE & Skills steering groups.

The video looks at how higher technical education offers a route into skilled work, the subjects people can study, and raises awareness of the role further education colleges play in the delivery of higher technical qualifications that complement the higher education offers provided at universities. The video is available to view here.

It’s really important that careers leaders, young people, parents and employees and employers know more about technical education. The academic route to employment isn’t for everyone, and we need to remove the stigma around practical, skills based qualifications like Apprenticeships, T-levels, Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas. They don’t ‘lock you in’ to sectors at too young an age, and they are not inferior qualifications; in fact outcomes suggest quite the opposite. They are excellent pathways for creating a positive identity for young people that are motivated by having a professional identity.

Higher technical qualifications provide entry into the jobs of the future. The first qualifications available from 2022 will focus exclusively on digital; supporting people into occupations like network engineers, cyber-security technologists and software developers. In 2023 more higher technical qualifications will be available, covering the construction and health and sciences sectors. It’s important we remember that some young people know what they want to do as a career, and that professional identity motivates them through education.

Within the North East LEP area we have a really strong offering around higher technical education and that will help us build a skilled workforce for the future, drive economic growth, and create more and better jobs for the North East.

By Matt Joyce, Regional Lead – North East Ambition, and Kim Smith, College Hub Facilitator, at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.