Once upon a time, professional educators decided what students needed to learn and taught it to them. The value of lessons in vocational skills for example, was in some way dependent on how current was the knowledge of a lecturer. I remember talking to a garage proprietor in the West of England who complained that his apprentice had been wasting his time learning how a carburettor works, years after the last car to have such a device had rolled off the production line.

Institute of Digital Technology

Things have changed and now employers are very much in the driving seat where curricula are concerned. Milton Keynes College is intending to open an Institute of Digital Technology at Bletchley Park, and hard-wired into the funding submission to government was the premise that business will have very significant input into everything taught there. Where once educationalists would have been appalled, now we all see this as a part of the common purpose to prepare young people as best we can for the world of work.

There are other benefits to be had from genuinely close and mutually supportive relationships between places like Milton Keynes College and the companies which operate in our community and two such examples have recently come across my desk.

BOSCH

The College does a lot in terms of apprenticeships with BOSCH, the white goods manufacturer. Working relationships become closer and over time the company has been very positive and cooperative with my colleagues and me.

At the start of the autumn term we will take delivery of eight free washing machines which they’re kindly donating. Some of these will be used by engineering students who will take them to bits and become acquainted with the workings of motors and switches and so on – and priceless experience it will be for them as the equipment is completely current (unlike a carburettor).

Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Starting on the most exciting of careers very shortly at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing will be six eager Milton Keynes College apprentices. Again, the College has had a productive relationship with the Formula One team for some time, and this is the fruition of that cooperation. For the College it’s wonderful to know that such a prestigious company wants to source its apprentices through us. It signifies their confidence that we know what we’re doing and that we’ll teach the right things as agreed between us.

Business Partnerships

Once businesses get to know an FE College, once they discover just what such an institution has to offer, they become engaged. Like Red Bull, they learn to trust what we can do; like BOSCH, they learn to see our value to the community and want to help where they can. The point is it’s not just a question of waiting for them to get in touch. We in FE have to get out there, go to networking events, start a conversation. Yes, it can look like part sales, part PR exercise, but it’s more than that.

Working with business is about partnerships, about cooperation, about forming relationships, hopefully even friendships. It’s about discovering how we can help each other, and help the next generation of the workforce at the same time. If you look upon local employers less as customers and more as collaborators, you’ll be amazed at what benefits such relationships can bring.

Tracey Matthews, Assistant Principal (Apprenticeships), Milton Keynes College

About Tracey Matthews: An experienced Director with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry, Tracey has an excellent understanding of apprenticeships and is passionate about improving the quality of delivery of apprenticeship provision.

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