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Skills for life

Newcastle College is a very large, mixed economy FE college with a strong and well established base of 16-18 vocational and academic learning, together with a large population of HE students taking foundation degrees.

In recent years the college has been accredited with four Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs); in aerospace and allied engineering, culinary excellence, health, and construction and technical skills.

We have also looked creatively at other ways to meet our income target, which this year stands at £75 million. Additional income sources include a reasonably significant work-based learning contract from the LSC for apprentices across a broad range of sectors and a large contract for offender learning.

All of the CoVEs and the vocational foundation degrees demand significant employer and sector skills involvement in curriculum design and delivery. Advisory bodies have been established in each of the key vocational areas and give a forum for the employer voice in helping shape the college.

Strong employer links are used to augment our curriculum through site visits and work experience for our 16-18 year-olds and undergraduates. Indeed the most astute of our employers use the college as a recruitment partner to select the best graduating students.

These links with employers in the region led us to think more broadly about work-related training for adults and how we might use our adult curriculum to meet the skills needs of local employers and to raise aspirations for learning.

Therefore, over the last three years the college has been shaping its adult curriculum to help meet LSC targets in skills for life and first level 2 and 3.

Our biggest task was to promote the college as a leading provider of work-based training. A new marketing contact centre was developed to raise demand for learning with employers, with contacts recorded and managed with software.

New delivery units were set up, with account managers responsible for key sectors and clients; new staff were employed by the college to assess skills in the workplace under new contracts.

These college assessors manage their own case loads against agreed annual targets for completion, and this gives the required flexibility for assessors to arrange their own time around the training needs of the employer.

In the workplace

Colleges have a real part to play in sustaining the economic well being of their region. By building responsiveness and adaptability into our systems, processes, and people, we have been able to meet the training aspirations of the largest and the smallest employers in the region.

Training is investment for the future, and through careful analysis of an employer's needs we have developed training packages that demonstrate real added value in terms of productivity and employee satisfaction through gaining accredited qualifications.

One of our clients is Visage Ltd, a logistics company based in South Shields. Staff retention was proving to be a problem, with poor attendance and sickness causing significant disruptions to the workflow.

The college's training advisors carried out a training needs analysis and prepared a training contract for the delivery of level 2 qualifications in warehousing and distribution. It was agreed that a further qualification in team leading would be suitable for specific staff to empower them in supervising their teams.

Visage backed the proposal and within six months of starting the training 32 full level 2 NVQ qualifications including team leading and distribution and warehousing were completed.

The college needed to show responsiveness and flexibility in working within the company's shift patterns to avoid disruption to the work flow. This flexibility involved college assessors carrying out early morning site visits to Visage to coincide with the start and end of overnight shifts.

Visage is now using the college for all of its training for new employees. Staff retention has risen and sickness and poor attendance have fallen since investing in staff skills.

Training for one

Smaller employers often have a greater need for external support since the resources aren't available in-house.

For instance, Newcastle College carried out a training needs analysis for a small family retail outlet in Morpeth, Northumberland. Through this process, one employee was identified as below level 2 for literacy and numeracy.

Both the employer and employee were keen to upgrade these skills and she was subsequently enrolled to NVQ level 2 in retail operations. This qualification included an essential skills model, developed by the college, which meant that the employee could stay in the workplace, progress towards the NVQ skills development and improve her levels of literacy and numeracy at the same time.

She achieved the full NVQ level 2 in retail after ten weeks, and has passed the end tests for level 2 adult literacy and numeracy "with flying colours".

Accreditation

Sometimes it's not actual training that employers need, but accreditation of an already successful in-house programme. Convergys is a large contact centre based in the centre of Newcastle which supplies national and international services for large multi-national companies such as BT and AT&T.

The company has a strong record of investing in skills and the training director for Convergys approached the college for assistance in accrediting their in-company team leading training.

On investigation it was clear that the quality and standard of their internal training delivered by experienced team leaders was already extremely high. Therefore, the college training advisor suggested to Convergys that the Investors in Quality (IIQ) award could be used to accredit the training.

This arrangement was put in place, and a further proposal was made to use the evidence generated for the IIQ award as part of a full NVQ level 2 in team leading.

Convergys was initially reluctant to do this since its previous experience in the delivery of NVQs was poor. After persuasion, the Convergys training director made the decision to use the initial cohort of 18 team leaders to complete both qualifications at the same time.

The college assessor worked closely with the trainee team leaders and is now making out weekly site visits to carry out workplace assessments and to offer support for the staff and the employer.

Satisfaction with the training has been very high and the first dual completions took place in November.

ESOL programme

A final example shows how skills training is helping employers take advantage of a diversifying workforce. Five employees of the health service provider, the Bond Care Group recently completed an English as a Second Langauage (ESOL) programme with Newcastle College helping them develop confidence in their role as carers. The individuals came to the UK from the Philippines, Poland and Bangladesh.

The delivery at Bond Care lasted 12 weeks and was adapted to meet both the needs of the employee and the employer. Language was put in context - for example, a project on life in the UK during World War II was developed to help the employees build a rapport with their elderly clients.

Through the work-based programme each individual developed language skills and all passed entry level 3 skills for life reading and level 1 national literacy tests.

Varying shift patterns meant that attending college was difficult so assessment visits were made in the workplace. The Bond Care Group was delighted with the outcome and very positive about the benefits of using Newcastle College to deliver language training for their employees.

Just rewards

Many of the small businesses we work with are described as 'hard to reach' by the LSC. This means that engagement can at times be difficult and, apart from satisfaction of doing a good job, the rewards can be small due to the relatively small volumes of activity. However, the wider benefits to the community outweigh the small return to the college.

This is counterbalanced by working with large employers and organisations. Activity with the health service, local authorities, and major employers such as Rolls Royce is managed through a different model built on strong strategic relationships.

College account holders work closely with training and HR managers to develop broad ranging training plans for the organisation covering multiple skills and competency requirements.

The account holders make sure that training is delivered on time to suit the needs of the employer and is to the highest standard by taking personal responsibility for customer satisfaction.

Through these strategies, the college is ready to meet the challenges set out in the recent Leitch Report and support the long term economic sustainability of the region.

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