Major campaign to boost region’s businesses


Date: 10th March 2024

Colleges across the south-east Midlands are launching a high-profile campaign to help businesses find the skilled people they so desperately need.

Bedford, Barnfield, Milton Keynes, Moulton and Northampton colleges, supported by the Department for Education (DfE), have banded together to fund wide-ranging research into what companies want and how they can better meet those needs through the training they provide.

The group, known as Colleges of the South-East Midlands (CoSEM) already educates and trains almost 56,000 learners and engages with 8,500 employers.

Principal and CEO of Milton Keynes College, Sally Alexander says the first aim of the project is to discover the best ways to encourage companies to come forward to talk to them. “Once we actually get to speak to business leaders, they’re often surprised at how much we can do for them. Our biggest problem is people who’ve not had much to do with colleges don’t really know what we do. Government and the media are generally more focused on schools and universities; we need to be heard above the noise.”

Principal and CEO of Moulton College, Corrie Harris, says the quality of specialist teaching is exceptionally high. “Most of our staff are people with industry experience, and many still work in those sectors. They’re not just blackboard teachers, they’re people who understand the requirements of the workplace because they’ve lived it themselves. They speak the same language as employers who need help with training, from agriculture to digital to construction, engineering or health. Often employers don’t realise working with a College can help with a whole range of staffing problems. They might look to take on an apprentice who will study with us while also working for them. It might be that they want to improve the skill levels of an existing staff member, or they might just want a work experience student, or someone on a work placement studying for a T Level – the vocational equivalent of A Levels. Whichever approach is going to work best for them, we offer bespoke specialist professional training. There are a lot of choices and we want to demystify what’s on offer so employers can see just how much they can gain from talking to us.”

Chief Executive of The Bedford College Group, Yiannis Koursis OBE, says, “We are a catalyst, igniting the region’s potential to thrive and transforming it into a dynamic powerhouse of talent and skill. Providing an expertly trained workforce is crucial to the success of the region, government, regional partnerships, local authorities, employers, and businesses. By offering a range of education and training to those who have recently left school, to higher apprenticeships for those who may have been employed for some years, local colleges are able to improve not only the opportunities for individuals themselves but for their employers in the South East Midlands.”

Many companies that do engage quickly become advocates, especially when they realise they can help shape the training.

Mariya Heaney from Wicksteed Park says, “Our partnership with Moulton College benefits Wicksteed Park because we’ve got some great apprentices who have then become seasonal workers and in turn have become permanent staff. It’s enabled us to successfully plan the future for Wicksteed Park and to acquire the permanent staff we need with the right skills and attitude, and it’s really helped with our recruitment.”

The Delivering Skills, Boosting Business campaign has come out of the Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) for the region, put together in consultation with local authorities, colleges and universities, employers, business groups and trade bodies, including Bedfordshire and Luton, Milton Keynes and Northampton Chambers of Commerce. It identified areas where the need was greatest, including digital and green skills, healthcare and logistics – sectors in which the group has highly respected capabilities. The new research will investigate what the barriers are to companies coming forward for help. Meanwhile, the colleges have launched a new online portal (www.deliveringskills.co.uk) as a one-stop shop for companies looking to recruit, or train up existing staff, and will point them towards the help they need, and the college to provide it.

The colleges’ deeper understanding of local and regional skills needs come from being embedded in their communities. Most of their students and learners are local to them, and they inhabit the same ecosystem as local businesses.

Many businesses today want to future-proof their workforce and recognise the need to not just create and access a future talent pipeline but also to develop their existing people.

Some employers like to be even more hands-on with training, offering themselves as industry experts to help refine those bespoke, sector or company-specific skills. It also helps them to become more integrated into their communities. It means everything taught is completely up-to-date and precisely what’s needed for now and tomorrow.

Education as collaboration.