A senior business leader has spoken out about the importance of industry-aligned education in helping to tackle skills gaps in some of the region’s key industries.

Chair of the North East Learning Enterprise Partnership (NELEP), Andrew Hodgson, made the address to more than 400 staff and students from Northumberland College as part of its annual graduation celebration held at its Kirkley Hall campus near Ponteland.

Andrew spoke about the value of industry-influenced education and the importance of continued personal and professional development to help improve skills in an ever-changing economy. Talking about the NELEP’s priorities for helping young people to find career opportunities within the region, Andrew used AVID Technology Group, which he has recently taken over as chairman of, as a prime example of a homegrown North East company which is doing great things in the world’s clean tech industry and is subsequently creating a range of highly skilled jobs, but has historically struggled to find suitably skilled candidates locally.

“The North East has a very strong presence in the automotive, aerospace, electronics, transport and pharmaceuticals sectors,” Andrew said.

“Despite a growing emphasis on the importance of STEM subjects, which is fantastic, from the earliest days of the business, AVID Technology Group has still had to support and develop its teams of highly-skilled engineers through internal training or apprenticeship schemes to nurture its own talent.

“The shortage of engineers in advanced manufacturing is certainly not a problem unique to the UK or specifically Northumberland, but one experienced worldwide. While there are great examples of engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Elon Musk who may seem out of reach to the majority, if we could start to address sector-specific skills gaps at an earlier stage in the education process by aligning courses more closely with industry needs, we too could nurture the next generation of innovators here in the region and develop the candidates that market-leading local businesses are looking for.”

Northumberland College has recently embarked on a comprehensive outreach programme to build partnerships with those operating across the region’s critical industries in a bid to better understand the skills needs and demands of local businesses.

Working together with leading organisations from across the advanced manufacturing, healthcare, digital and agricultural sectors, Northumberland College is actively working to support its corporate partners’ plans for the future through the co-design and delivery of bespoke vocational courses and apprenticeship schemes.

“By aligning the skills taught on our courses more closely with the specific needs of business leaders, we can go a long way to minimise the gaps in expertise that exist across our region and provide a competitive edge for our students when seeking employment,” said Iain Nixon, vice principal of partnerships and commercial at Education Partnership North East, which includes Northumberland College.

“It is our duty as a provider of further and higher-level education to meet the standards set by key employers regionally. They know their industries better than anyone and Northumberland College is now actively developing ways to expand its commercial infrastructure to incorporate their expertise.

“Spanning a multitude of industry sectors, our outreach programme has so far successfully identified a number of key areas for development. As part of an ongoing strategy for driving efficiency across all areas of the College, including our commercial offer to businesses, we are actively investing in all of our Northumberland-based campuses to significantly improve learning facilities, better engage with employers to deliver more sector-focused programmes in partnership with local industry, and provide learners with the exact skills and qualifications they need to enter industries including digital technology and advanced manufacturing.”

Nigel Harrett, Principal at Northumberland College, commented: “There is a very strong manufacturing and engineering sector here in Northumberland as well as a growing supply chain cluster, especially in niche markets like advanced manufacturing. The skills shortages that these companies face must therefore be addressed to meet straight forward supply and demand and future-proof jobs in the region as much as we can.

“Collectively, companies like AVID Technology Group, AkzoNobel, Tharsus and Arcinova provide thousands of highly-sought after jobs for local people and their communities and as advances in technology develop apace, so must we. Education providers, including Northumberland College, must think ahead and develop mutually-beneficial partnerships with firms to ensure our young people can walk straight into these roles when available.”

Over 100 students from across Northumberland College’s range of higher education courses graduated at the ceremony held on Tuesday 2 July.

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