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Skills for the future, key to building our world-leading innovation profile

Professor Roy Sandbach, Chair of the North East LEP Innovation Board, reflects on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcement of the Northern Futures University Technical College, a new employer-driven school for the region.

It’s impossible to imagine a prosperous future for any region without the creation of a vibrant and innovative knowledge-based economy. Every single advancing region across the world is striving for this and, clearly, NELEP’s aim is to deliver not just more jobs but these better, higher-paid jobs here in the North East.

But we can’t create or attract these innovation jobs in our key employment sectors unless we have advanced skills. That’s why I am so pleased with the announcement this week of the new Northern Futures University Technical College (UTC).

Northern Futures UTC will be a school providing an all-round, forward-looking and dynamic curriculum but with added focus on two employment sectors, IT and healthcare sciences. Key regional employers will engage directly with the curriculum and work directly with students (and parents). That way we will go beyond the fragmented employer involvement with schools that is definitely well-meaning but isn’t always capable of providing the quality and quantity of skilled people that the region really needs in its most important sectors.

Eventually, Northern Futures will have 600 young people aged 14 to 18 from across the region, equipping them with the skills to build successful careers in important regionally-relevant sectors. A key contribution within the NELEP skills agenda and a driver for inward innovation investment.

This will work. The people involved in successfully leading the bid for this UTC are committed to the region, understand the challenges, are aware of the employer needs, include high-quality, experienced education and city management professionals and are used to success!! By the way, simply getting this far has been a tough job…and the bid team should be congratulated.

Of course, we will need active employer support. We need involvement from across the IT and digital community, from organisations big and small. We need support from all employers in healthcare science. This must be exciting and engaging for pupils and parents. Come and join us.

Personally, I can’t think of anything more important than to use the collaborative efforts of the business, employer and education communities in the region to build a prosperous future. Let’s make this UTC the best UTC.

As well as the North East LEP, the UTC is sponsored by Newcastle City Council, the University of Sunderland and leading regional employers. These include Accenture, which has a Technology Delivery Centre in the region; Sage, the only FTSE 100 UK technology company; HP, which has a Regional Delivery Centre in the North East; and Dynamo, the North East IT Cluster.

For Healthcare Science, the UTC has support from a number of healthcare organisations and local SMEs. These include The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, the Academic Health Sciences Network North East and North Cumbria, and specialist SMEs such as Kromek and PolyPhotonix.

This innovative new school is the second to be announced in the North East, with South Durham UTC set to open in 2016.

Northern Futures UTC will be based in Newcastle and is scheduled to open its doors to students in 2017.