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Colleges Week 2020

Kim Smith, College Careers Hub Facilitator at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), talks about colleges and their role at the centre of the economic rebuild as we celebrate Colleges Week 2020

Further Education Colleges have long been important economic drivers within our communities and their positive impact upon the wider regional economy has been growing dramatically.

It may be tempting to see colleges simply as teaching and training centres and to neglect the wider impact and effects they have upon the local and regional community.

However, the contribution that colleges make to their community is huge, and much bigger than many would have credited them with. Much of this impact and value goes unseen, but it is very real and it affects a range of people and groups, including local businesses, employers, learners, society and taxpayers.

There are nine Further Education colleges within the North East LEP area. As well as being significant employers of both teaching and non-teaching staff, these colleges help to strengthen the local economy through the regeneration of their communities.

A great example of this is Bishop Auckland College and the work it is doing with key partners as part of the Bishop Auckland Strong Town Board to start formulating a bid for up to £25 million from the Government’s Stronger Town’s Fund.

We know that colleges are strategic leaders in their locality to ensure an effective skills system that responds to the needs of local communities and businesses. Colleges are also key partners for translating the LEP’s economic vision of more and better jobs into a reality. In recognition of this, Ellen Thinnesen, CEO of Education Partnership North East (EPNE), a partnership between Sunderland College, Hartlepool Sixth Form and Northumberland College, was recently appointed as Chair of the Skills Advisory Panel (SAP).

Colleges provide a clear line of sight to the world of work for young people, playing a pivotal role in developing tomorrow’s workforce and supporting those who are unemployed to retrain and/or upskill, they stimulate local economic growth and job creation, and they create meaningful partnerships with schools, universities and employers.

That’s why the North East LEP earlier this year made a Local Growth Fund grant of £954,983 to support New College Durham’s Institute of Technology (IoT). The IoT will see New College Durham work in partnership with Nissan, Esh Group and Newcastle University to deliver quality higher-level technical training in subjects such as digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering.

Further education and private training providers also collaborating are Sunderland College, Tyne Coast College, East Durham College, Middlesbrough College, and NA College Trust.

There is also the North East LEP College Hub, which I facilitate. The College Hub brings together the Colleges based in the LEP area, and two of the largest Sixth Form Institutions. It was initially tasked with supporting the adoption, implementation and achievement of the Gatsby Good Career Guidance Benchmarks and assessing how transferable they are from school settings to further education.

The College Hub is now taking on a broader remit to include Apprenticeships, T-levels, Higher Technical Education and the brokering of strategic employer partnerships with Further Education Institutions. Through the Enterprise Advisor Network, we are privileged to have supported positive working relationships between colleges and employers such as Bowmer + Kirkland, AkzoNobel, Accenture and Sunderland Software City, as well as public sector organisations NHS, Northumbria Police, Durham Constabulary, DWP and HMRC.

As we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges play a central role in our economic recovery. Despite budgets cuts of 30% since 2009, colleges remain large employers in their own right, champions of the future workforce and anchors within the towns and cities they serve.

In short, colleges are at the heart of our communities, adapting and doing more than ever to drive economic prosperity and helping to build a stronger future for our region.