Career College North East, CCNE, is one of just four career colleges in the UK and the first to specialise in Advanced Manufacturing. Formed by a partnership of South Tyneside College and St Wilfrid’s RC School, it is based on the Government’s new national educational policy of allowing Further Education Colleges such as South Tyneside to recruit students at the age of 14.
As a career college, CCNE will combine academic and vocational studies with students following St Wilfrid’s core academic curriculum for four days a week and then undergoing skills education and preparation for the world of work during a fifth day at South Tyneside College.
Career Colleges are supported by Lord Baker, a former Education and Science Secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s government and currently chairman of the Edge Foundation, an educational charity. He is also spearheading the initiative for University Technical Colleges.
The aim is that by teaching vocational skills alongside academic training in maths English and other core subjects, the CCNE students will gain two years on new recruits if they stay in their chosen vocational area.
At the launch of CCNE Lord Baker described the skills gap facing the UK and said: “In dealing with this problem the FE colleges are absolutely critical. They have a very good record in training people and giving them skills but one of the disadvantages they have is that they start at 16.
“It takes 18 months to two years to get to Level 2, so you won’t get there until you’re 18. Then you’re employable and you’ll get a job somewhere but not many of those go on to do Level 3 and Level 4 where the gaps are.
“If you start at 14 in the sort of college you will have here, at 16 you’ll have got a GCSE equivalent grade and you’ll have Level 2 by 16 and then you’ll realise that if you stay on and grade up to Level 3 in A-Level or BTech and then go on to do a Foundation Degree, you’re much more employable and much more needed.’’
The college will open its doors to students in September of this year and the first intake will be made up of 30 14-to-16 year olds and 30 16-to-19 year olds. It will work closely with the region’s employers which will help frame the curriculum and provide projects for the students to work on.
Lord Baker added: “The nature of teaching is very different, of a conversational nature rather than a hectoring nature. Two days of the week when they are here, they are making and designing things with their hands. You’re bringing together learning by the hand and also learning with the mind.’’
Whereas UTCs teach Stem subjects, career colleges will focus on non-Stem subjects such as catering, logistics, and accountancy. Lord Baker said one UTC had been approved in Newton Aycliffe in partnership with Hitachi the University of Sunderland and Getsamp Tallent, and another would shortly be approved in Newcastle.
He predicted that there would be more career colleges in the region specialising in non-Stem subjects.
Speaking of the UTCs, he said “One of the things we are most proud of, and this will be true of career colleges as well, is when we have leavers - and we’ve had lots of leavers now at 16 to 18 - so far not one student has joined the ranks of the unemployed. Everybody is either in a job or an apprenticeship or staying on at college or gone to university. That is remarkable for any education institution.’’
Launched 18 months ago, there are now – apart from CCNE – three other career colleges: Oldham’s Digital and Creative Career College; Hugh Baird’s Hospitality and Catering College in Liverpool and Bromley’s Food, Enterprise and Hospitality Career College in South East London.
As well as helping to address the skills shortage in engineering and manufacturing, it is hoped CCNE will supply many of the technicians and engineers who will be needed by companies locating to the International Advanced Manufacturing Park on a 150 hectare site north of the Nissan plant. The first phase of this development is projected to create 5,000 jobs and attract about £260m in private sector investment.
Ian Fawdon, chairman of the Advanced Manufacturing Forum, speaking at the launch, said: “The North East LEP recognises that manufacturing and engineering are key to growth in the North East and the threat is the skills gaps.’’
He said there was a particular problem with recruiting mechanical engineers, welders, and people with CNC CAD, quality tools and problem solving skills. He added: “From the college employers will get genuinely interested young people, people who are interested in having a genuine understanding of what engineering is. They will get young people with skills that they can immediately use and with good attitudes.
Once companies in the forum find out about this they will be clamouring to get involved.’’
Andrew Watts, chairman of governors at South Tyneside College and executive director of Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle, said: “The key is our links with employers and business. We will continue working with the business community to ensure that the qualifications and the skills through the career college meet the needs of the labour market. That is absolutely crucial to make sure that we take that forward.’’
He added: “We want to be an outstanding college that provides world class education and training. With our new partnership with St Wilfred’s RC College, we are going to create that. It’s a new chapter in our strategic vision.’’
Martin Swales, chief executive of South Tyneside Council also speaking at the launch described how, about five years ago, the council developed a vision for the next 20 years called Shaping Our Own Future about increasing prosperity in the borough.
He said: “If we weren’t to change the set of circumstances that we have inherited through many years of industrial change then the long term was never going to improve. We needed to shape our future and be in control of our own destiny.’’
“Ultimately prosperity is about employment and that is about education. Without that, a place like South Tyneside will never move on.’’