With the emergence of University Technical Colleges (UTCs) in the UK’s competitive educational landscape, it has never been more important to attract leaders into the sector who have the ability to build strong relationships with industry and commercial stakeholders, writes Andy Walder, National Construction College Principal.
In today’s austere times, businesses clearly need recruits that are fit for purpose. What’s more, these young people need to have had education and training which enables them to hit the ground running and make a valuable contribution to their employer from the very start.
These factors are especially important in an industry such as construction, which depends on a workforce with a mix of practical skills and theoretical knowledge.
To help develop these young people, modern day UTCs are a hugely welcome addition to the education landscape. They are groundbreaking educational institutions which not only deliver knowledge, but also go further to ensure students learn high quality technical skills and are provided with clear employment progression routes.
However, the success of any UTC is tethered to the industry that it is producing talent for, and there needs to be a collaborative approach to produce the right candidates with the right skills.
From the outset, UTCs therefore need to be listening to the needs of business and employers to ensure that the workforce of the future is being equipped with the requisite skills – and this listening exercise needs to start at the very top of the organisation.
With that in mind, UTC Principals need to be led by people who are not just academically strong, but who also have strong relationships with stakeholders in the sectors that they operate in. Furthermore, in order to develop the right recruits for an industry, UTC leaders need to be able to leverage the support of local businesses in order to deliver the various 14-19 curriculums. After all - without the support and guidance of industry, UTCs lose their purpose in a competitive educational landscape.
There have been positive steps towards more vocational education recently and, certainly in the construction industry, we are seeing how this kind of collaboration can pay off.
One such example is the Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA), which is a purpose-built National Construction College (NCC) facility providing training in the key skills required to work in tunnel excavation and underground construction. It is a central component of the huge Crossrail project.
As the NCC – the training division of CITB - is the leading construction training provider in Europe, we adopt best-practice approaches to ensure that our institutions produce the best results for all concerned.
As such, the leaders at TUCA work closely with industry partners, professional bodies and other organisations to ensure that the facilities and curriculum meet current and future industry needs. This partnership approach has meant that they have recently developed two new apprenticeship programmes, employing up to 12 students each, in response to skill gaps identified in the industry, one being in Sprayed Concrete Lining and the other in Tunnel Operations.
The importance of working with industry to develop the right curriculum cannot be underestimated and we’ll certainly be taking learnings from TUCA with us when we open the West Midlands Construction University Technical College in September 2014.
One of our main concerns is certainly finding the right Principal - someone with the perfect combination of industry and educational knowledge and someone who can combine their understanding of 14-19 education with a passion for nurturing strong working relationships with industry and other stakeholders. Securing the right links with external partners will enable the UTC to better meet the needs of the UK’s construction employers, and ultimately mean that the students will enjoy the best possible grounding to begin their careers.
With the right Principal, the West Midlands Construction UTC can build the foundations of an industry with high value, technically skilled workers who can serve the construction industry’s needs.
Andy Walder is principal of the National Construction College