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In conversation with Karen Redhead, chief executive of Derwentside College: Supporting the ageing workforce

Derwentside College provides high quality education and training that helps learners to develop the knowledge, skills and qualities they need to achieve sustained employment and build successful careers.

Here principal and chief executive Karen Redhead tells the North East LEP about why it’s important to support the ageing workforce and its pioneering work with the over 50s.

Why is engaging with the over 50s so important?

The national picture, reflected here in the North East, shows the simple fact that we are all living longer, which means the over 50s are a growing demographic.

It’s also true that people are staying much more fit and healthy, meaning there is an increasing tendency – and appetite – for working into the later years.

In this region it’s no different. At Derwentside College, we often see people who have been made redundant or become a carer for another family member who want to resume working and need to retrain. They have a huge contribution to make in terms of skill set and work ethic.

Let’s also look at the economic argument. The North East has skills gaps that this part of the population can help close. What’s more, when people are physically and mentally active it contributes to their wellbeing, in turn reducing their reliance on the healthcare system and state.

With all this in mind, the over fifties are a talent pool we’d be silly to overlook.

How does the work you are doing fit with the North East LEP’s retrain, regain, retain campaign and the government’s Fuller Working Lives Strategy?

The LEP’s retrain, regain, retain work in line with the government’s Fuller Working Lives Strategy is extremely welcome. Our offer fits in very nicely with this.

Derwentside College is one of the UK’s largest providers of apprenticeships and last year just over a thousand of our apprentices were aged fifty or above.

We have many, many cases in which employers have had the foresight to see the benefits of retraining their existing workforce. In this instance, our job is to provide training and developing opportunities to help them unlock the potential of their older employees.

Where we align ourselves heavily with the LEP is in the drive to create ‘more and better jobs’. In particular that means helping people to move into the better jobs category, which is where someone is classed as holding a level 3 or above qualification.

Our focus is on the delivery of a recognisable level five qualification and leadership and management skills that support the technical skills of the individual in the sector they have been working.

How is Derwentside College working with employers to help them unlock their workforce potential and recruit more over 50s?

Our employer base is incredibly diverse – we are a significant provider within the public sector and we work with a lot of private companies to up skill their workforce.

We also work with a number of partners to ensure an appropriate skills pipeline.

Crucially, we have an outstanding partnership with Jobcentre Plus through which we work with the unemployed. This is hugely successful because we base our training provision around market needs, giving businesses access to the talent that they need and want. We have around 300 learners over fifty taking part.

We offer a specific course for the over 50s called ‘Pace and Purpose Fifty Plus’ and this links with Jobcentre requirements. The aim of this is to get the long-term unemployed back into a college environment so they can retrain in a way that’s comfortable to them.

In terms of our work with employers, we apply a very tailored approach to each one. We spend time understanding the issues, find solutions, help them train their staff and make sure this all marries with their policies.

Our work academies linked to specific sectors and employers have been particularly popular. Our contract with caravan manufacturer Erwen Hymer is a great example of this.

Erwen Hymer needs to increase its 500-strong workforce to 700. In response we have developed a manufacturing academy focused on the unemployed to deliver the skills it requires. It’s been a brilliant way to get learners into jobs to everyone’s benefit.