From education to employment

A college for the community

Jamie Stevenson, new Principal of Lewisham College

Jamie Stevenson, brand-new Principal of NCG’s Lewisham College, reflects on his passion for education, the important role that colleges play in communities and his priorities for his first year in the role.

I’ve been passionate about education since I began my career more than 20 years ago. I believe you never stop learning and everything you learn stays with you your whole life, so it’s something that can never be taken away from you.

Leaving school with one GCSE, I had a choice between college or going straight into work and paying rent, which I definitely didn’t want to do! Although I didn’t really like school, once I had the power to pursue something I loved doing (which at the time was horse riding) and I was able to make the decision for myself about what and where to study, I thrived. I ended up staying at college and progressing onto an HND in Equine Science and Land Based Technologies.

I’ve never worked with horses or in the equine sector, but I really enjoyed learning and I gained so many transferable skills and people skills that I’ve been able to take with me all the way through my career.  I think that shows just how powerful further education is.

Further education empowers young people for the first time in their lives to make their own choices and be treated like an adult. That’s the real difference between school and college, so it’s important to remember that our students are choosing to be here. As educators, our role is to develop them as people and to develop their skills, but also to make sure they have a positive experience so that they’ll keep making that choice to come to college and learn.

My career in London’s further education sector means I’ve always been aware of Lewisham College. I’ve closely watched its journey, and while it has been through many changes, it is integral to the local community.

The staff here are a real part of the Lewisham community and are very passionate about what they do, so the college has always had a very strong foundation in its staff. I believe there’s a real opportunity to work with that existing team of dedicated colleagues to develop it to the next level for our students, for our local community and for the businesses and employers here. To have the chance to come in and be a real part of that journey really drew me to this role.

One of my biggest priorities is to ensure that Lewisham is the provider of choice for employers locally. There’s a historic perception that colleges don’t really engage with employers, but we know that’s not true – whether it’s masterclasses, work experience, or supporting our curriculum and assessments, we have really positive engagement with employers.

Now I want to make sure that we’re working with employers from the very beginning, helping us to set the curriculum and the vision. It’s not just about understanding the skills that our students need; its understanding what development our teachers need to stay relevant, and understanding what sectors our local community needs us to be focused on.

My vision is for Lewisham College to be recognised as a centre of excellence in some of those priority areas and to be known as the place to study if you want to go into green skills, digital technology, or the health and life sciences. We know these are priority areas because of external factors like the NHS staff shortages, or the work I’ve done in my previous role to set up training academies for low-carbon green technologies.

In London alone, we need more than 600,000 installers for green facilities like EV chargers and solar heat pumps both commercially and in our homes. The government may have moved the goalposts for our Net Zero targets but these are still skills we need to focus on. Similarly, with the rise of AI and how fast-paced digital transformation is, we know that area isn’t going away. The London LSIP that has recently been published really aligns with that too.

Our national footprint as part of NCG also gives our staff and students access to expertise from different areas of the country and attracts partnerships with employers who work beyond our individual regions. I am very much looking forward to working with colleagues up and down the country to turn local impact into national impact.

But most of all, I want to make sure that we’re doing right by the Lewisham community and that we’re a real community asset.

Lewisham is evolving, it currently has a 10-year regeneration plan and this is a prime opportunity for it to develop and attract more people and commercial ventures into the borough. Lewisham College is very much part of that conversation, working with civic stakeholders and developers to help ensure that the plans are right for Lewisham; that we can respond to the skills needs that come with the change; that our students and residents are going to benefit from the jobs that the regeneration brings.

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