From education to employment

How Newcastle College is Plugging the North East’s Creative Skills Gaps

Scott Bullock, Principal of Newcastle College

Newcastle College works with employers across the North East to ensure that skills and employability remain at the heart of its curriculum.  Here, Principal of Newcastle College, Scott Bullock, explains how the College stands ready to meet the skills needs of the creative sectors and develop a future workforce that will drive the region’s economic prosperity.

Newcastle College sits at the heart of the North East. We’re passionate about developing the skills and talents of our students, so that they can succeed in modern enterprise and make a positive contribution to the prosperity of our region. We offer hundreds of vocational courses and apprenticeships, and as the largest provider of college-based Higher Education in the UK, we deliver more than 70 degrees through Newcastle College University Centre.

The arts have been at the centre of our provision since the 1970s, when the College of Further Education in Bath Lane merged with the Charles Trevelyan Technical College at Rye Hill to become the Newcastle Upon Tyne College of Arts and Technology. We were renamed Newcastle College in 1988 and, almost 35 years later, we’ve grown to become one of the largest colleges in the UK. Our creative curriculum remains a distinct part of what we offer, with hundreds of students on creative programmes from art and design to fashion and textiles, graphic design to photography, music production to performance and production arts.  

We have a strong history of collaboration with local industry and our curriculum is employer-led; focused on the current and future skills needs of local businesses, to ensure our qualifications are meaningful and that our students leave us employable and ready to work. Even our teaching colleagues come from industry, bringing their knowledge and experience to pass on to the next generation of experts in their field. Many remain working in industry alongside teaching, meaning our students are learning directly from working artists and designers, architects and musicians amongst others.

This is something we’ve been doing for a long time, and like all our curriculum areas, our strong creative offer and rich arts programme has been developed in collaboration with the region’s creative sector.  We know that our courses meet the needs of those who have contributed and how vital they are to our regional culture and economy, but we’re also aware of the skills gaps that we still face. 

Technology is advancing every day and new jobs are emerging, creating skills and knowledge gaps within the sector. It’s our role to be ready to respond to these and we have (and continue to) find solutions through the creation of new courses and skills training in collaboration with industry. 

Recent examples of our successful collaboration with industry include our creative bootcamps, developed in collaboration with Generator NE and Northern Stage. These 14-week intensive courses are completely free for adult learners, funded through our Adult Education Budget (AEB) and are designed to get more people into the live technical sector, something we know theatres and venues are really looking for. Because we worked directly with industry to develop them, we know exactly what skills and knowledge they’re looking for in their workforce and we’re able to make sure that’s exactly what we teach. In just over three-months, students are ready to enter the live sound and technical theatre industry, thanks to a unique learning experience. As well as time in college they learn from experts in the field and benefit from a minimum of five days learning on the job in local theatres including Northern Stage.  

Our Digital Arts (along with our Digital Technologies) courses are shaped by our Digital Advisory Board, made up of employers and industry leaders.

A standout example of employer-led curriculum, we created the UK’s first Creative Digital Design Degree Apprenticeship in 2020. The three-year apprenticeship was developed with leading digital organisations including Digital Union, Sunderland Software City, Hedgehog Lab, Cargo Creative, Pebble and Helena Hill Consulting.  Apprentices gain practical skills working in industry and attend Newcastle College University Centre to work with the latest immersive technologies and create impactful designs related to digital art, digital graphic design, video, online services and installations.

In addition to our curriculum development, our relationships with industry ensure that our facilities also continue to reflect those found in the creative working world. Our brand-new interactive Powerwall is the first of its kind within the UK’s education sector and is set to revolutionise our student learning experience. Developed by Animmersion UK in partnership with ArtAV Limited, one of its most exciting and far-reaching applications is in the field of photography, film, and live events, allowing our photography and filmmaking students to create virtual backdrops, based on photography or CGI – previously something that only major movie studios could afford to access. Investment like this, informed and developed by industry, gives learners the chance to develop their skills on advanced, innovative technology that will be used in the jobs of today and the future. 

Newcastle College already stands ready to meet the skills needs of the creative sectors, and we will continue to ensure that skills and employability remain at the heart of our curriculum development. It is only through honest engagement with industry and creative employers that we can make sure our students are developing the skills needed for the industry of tomorrow.

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