Collaboration between colleges and employers is essential for the success of the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda
By Kevin O’Hare, Principal at Keighley College
In February 2022, the government announced its ‘levelling up’ plan which outlined 12 key missions aimed at spreading opportunity and economic prosperity across the UK.
One of the missions was to increase the number of young people and adults engaged in high quality skills training, with a target to get an additional 200,000 people in England to complete these skills by 2030.
This announcement and the Association of Colleges’ subsequent commitment to playing its part in the ‘levelling up’ agenda encouraged me to evaluate the role my college and other further education providers must play in this mission.
Colleges play an intrinsic role not only in nurturing a future workforce, but also in giving the community around them the opportunity to raise their aspirations and develop skills that are essential in cultivating regional development.
As part of this, it is essential that education providers collaborate with employers to ensure technical-based qualifications are kept up-to-date with current demands and emerging employment sectors.
This October, Keighley College has been using Bradford Skills Month as an opportunity to do just that. By working with industry employers, as well as other education providers and local authorities, throughout the years we have successfully delivered a timetable of events that have given around 17,000 young people insights into the possibilities of careers.
The month-long series of events were designed with the intention of supporting, nurturing and inspiring future talent and I believe that such collaboration between educators and employers is exactly what is needed to make ‘levelling up’ a success in our region.
Addressing the skills gap
One of the largest obstacles in the way of our region’s economic growth is the widening gap between newly available technical roles and individuals who have the skills to undertake them.
This is particularly true of the digital sector. Nationally, it is reported that 11.9 million adults don’t have basic digital skills and 52% of adults don’t have the essential digital skills needed for the workplace.
With an ever-increasing amount of roles requiring some level of digital understanding, it is hugely important that as education providers we give our learners access to high quality technical skills within our courses.
This is the third year that Keighley College has sponsored Bradford’s annual Tech Week, which has allowed us to work with employers to identify emerging sectors and tailor our digital curriculum to cater for the jobs of tomorrow.
We are currently involved in the Space Art programme as part of the awareness week. This project has given some of our Level 3 students the opportunity to use artificial intelligence (AI) and coding to create artwork.
We’ve seen trends developing over the last few years that show AI to be an emerging sector, and wanted to give our students the opportunity to experience it.
By introducing young people to the vast possibilities available to them, we hope to raise the aspirations of the next generation of workers in our region and in turn use their innovation and creativity to contribute to thriving new economies.
A ‘place-based’ approach
By providing access to technical qualifications and working with industry experts to create clear routes into employment, we are also working to dispel the belief that young people have to leave their communities in order to succeed.
Although the ‘levelling up’ agenda is national, it is important that employers and education providers take on a ‘place-based’ approach to skills development.
Colleges play a vital role in working with employers to ensure young people have access to jobs without having to leave the area, and to do this we must ensure that the skills we teach correlate to the needs of employers locally.
Also part of Skills Month, we are supporting Bradford Manufacturing Weeks. Earlier this year, Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, announced her commitment to make manufacturing in the region more competitive, innovative and attract more diverse, young talent.
As one of the leading providers of manufacturing and engineering qualifications regionally, Keighley College has used this period to work alongside stakeholders to put Bradford on the map as a centre of excellence for manufacturing.
This year, we have seen over 2000 students from 40 secondary schools engage with nearly 40 of the district’s leading manufacturing companies.
Showcasing both the educational and employment opportunities that the region has to offer goes a long way in discouraging the current drain of human capital experienced in our region, caused by fear of lack of opportunities and low salaries locally.
The role of colleges in local labour markets and enhancing the lives of the communities they serve cannot be overstated, and therefore it is important that we as educators play our part in the ‘levelling up’ agenda.