From education to employment

Employers need to tell schools and colleges what they want: Business as usual for UTCs

Alex Hayes is Principal of University Technical College Norfolk

We were surprised at the British Chamber of Commerce & Indeed’s findings last week.

Their research found that it’s taking some businesses up to 6 months to recruit skilled staff and that there is a lack of apprentices applying for vacancies.

Many students at University Technical College Norfolk (UTCN) successfully apply to higher-level apprenticeship schemes, which give them great starting salaries with guaranteed employment at the end. In our experience, apprenticeships are highly sought after and we expect 60% of our students to take them up this year. 

Employers need to tell schools and colleges what they want; providers need to provide it! It’s as simple as that!

UTCN was rated ‘Good’ across all areas at its May 2019 OFSTED inspection.

Inspectors said: “The careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) provided to pupils are of a very high quality. Staff provide pupils with a wide range of opportunities and experiences that support them to make informed decisions about their future careers. Progression rates are high.”

In terms of our Year 13 2018 cohort destinations, we sent 28% of our students into Level 3 apprenticeships, 23% into Level 4+ apprenticeships, 36% went on to continue their education and 13% into full-time employment.

We are very proud of the fact that 100% of our students go on to the next step, whether that’s an apprenticeship, university or full time employment. The work that we do with employers helps us to achieve this as they inform our curriculum.

This leads to them taking on our students as they know the skills they have gained from their education at UTCN relate to the workplace.

Our vision is to develop the engineers and technology specialists of the future. In practice, this means that our curriculum is carefully designed to support our students to progress to take-up these opportunities.

Working with our Industry Liaison Group (ILG) – a body of 44 local employers and the University of East Anglia – we have devised a four-year programme to support students to develop the skills that they will need.

This preparation takes the form of: ‘Hard’ skills in terms of relevant curriculum subjects and qualifications. We offer courses, qualifications and opportunities, which allow young people to progress, not just those that count in league tables or for Progress 8.

For example, a Practical Engineering Skills course has been devised to provide students with the practical skills that employers require even though it does not count for DfE performance purposes. 

The students also develop ‘soft’ skills. The ILG has produced an Employability Skills Matrix which explicitly states the skills that the 44 employers in the group value. For example, punctuality, team work and presentation skills.

Many young people are unaware of the opportunities and career routes that exist. For example, many of our students go onto to take-up degree apprenticeships as quantity surveyors. How many young people at 18 even know what a quantity surveyor is, let alone want to be one!

We develop these areas through our Find Your Future programme. Every Wednesday morning, employers work with our students on real world problems. Employers get to meet future employees and young people learn about the opportunities available to them, while developing the hard and soft skills needed in the workplace.

Our employer partners say great things about us;

“Norfolk UTC is a shining example of measurable collaboration between industry and education where with consistent support from our region’s outstanding companies we are able to demonstrate the benefits of identifying and developing a skills pool from within education. 

Destinations speak for themselves but most importantly the feedback received on the quality of our outgoing students is testament to its success.” –Yvonne Mason, The Mason Trust

“Building a strong relationship with UTCN has been mutually beneficial. From the students’ perspective it has enabled them to get a great insight into the Digital Technology areas of a FTSE 100 blue chip, speaking to our staff and seeing our teams in a working environment. We have also just recruited our first student from UTCN into a Digital Business Analyst role and this is a direct result of our partnership with them.” – Neil Baxter, Aviva

With students developing skills that employers have explicitly requested, it is no surprise that our students go on to some great destinations.

Alex Hayes is Principal of University Technical College Norfolk

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