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How Further Education Meets Industry Demands for Software Skills

Covid-19 has devastated lives and livelihoods, and how quickly we rebound from it depends on thoughtful and concerted action from government, business, and education.

Job losses will cut deep, especially in retail and hospitality, with thousands of mainly younger workers in need of new career opportunities. Students are understandably anxious about the future; Covid robbed them of a huge part of the college experience, so it is vital that the direct outcome of their hard work — a good job or good job prospects — is protected.

Four organisations in the skills and education sector have taken a proactive approach by collaborating on a White Paper that provides a practical response to the depth of the jobs crisis created by Covid and Brexit. How Further Education Meets Industry Demand for Software Skills, combines the experiences and expertise of Newcastle College, Gateway Qualifications, Code Institute and South East LEP to provide a roadmap for FE colleges to ramp-up delivery in-demand skills that lead to employment.

The White Paper was undertaken in an effort to provide context and to give others in the Further and Higher Education space an incentive to start that conversation.

Further Education can make a key contribution. FE colleges have particularly close links to their local communities and have the capacity to respond to the growing realism among employers that an apprenticeship-style model of recruitment is the best way of provisioning the tech skills they need.

FE colleges are in a bind: they recognise the demand for a recognised qualification to skill or re-skill people for employment in tech roles — and do so within a relatively short space of time — but lack the resources not only to create such a course but to deliver the teaching.

Newcastle College saw a path through this and is now enrolling learners in the new Gateway Qualifications Level 5 Diploma in Web Application Development. The qualification is funded through the Advanced Learner Loan mechanism and delivered by a third-party online education platform, Code Institute and was created by Gateway Qualifications.

The non-negotiables for Newcastle College were that the course be delivered flexibly to fit in with the complex real lives in its local communities, that it offered learners an opportunity to turn their lives around quickly, within a year, and that funding was readily accessible. Code Institute has a consistent employment track record of 90% and is widely recognised by business and the IT industry; both are instrumental in shaping the course content, keeping it relevant to the demands of employers.

For Andrew Nicholson, Head of Digital Technologies at Newcastle College working with an online delivery expert, Code Institute and Gateway Qualifications gave Newcastle College the agility launch quickly, “The ability to get it off the ground now far outweighs the potential advantages of creating a qualification like this under our own steam, as the resources needed and the time frame involved in developing the platform would be very considerable.”

Since launching in December, Newcastle have already onboarded their first cohort of learners with applications for a second cohort about to open shortly. These learners will have graduated and be in employment early 2022.

Businesses throughout the UK have accelerated their demand for web application, software development and coding skills as operations move online – yet a shortage of suitably skilled workers persists and the gulf is widening. “Lack of connectivity – just basic lack of kit – is hindering the chances of young people and adults to participate in training, and to be part of society really,” says Louise Aitken, Skills Lead for the South East LEP which is launching a £2m procurement initiative to re-skill local communities hit hard by Covid-19. “Part of the programme is a package for digital connectivity,” Aitken adds, “because this is what local employers tell us time and again: they need people with digital skills.”

In the South East, a great example of this partnership approach is co-investment in Stansted Airport College, one of a number of SELEP capital investments worth over £40m. SELEP, Harlow College, Essex County Council and the Airport invested in this facility.

Newcastle College was quick to spot the opportunity. As a college of Further Education, it can play a much more pragmatic role than universities in connecting its local communities with the jobs market. It has taken the initiative by adopting Code Institute’s programme to support an under-served portion of their local community: people who are looking for a flexible, cost-effective and above all quick route to a career, or change of career.

As the dust settles after Covid-19, and the full scale of its disruption becomes clear, that is likely to be a lot of people.

You can download the White Paper here to read it in full.

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