Any Milton Keynes company that has tried to recruit people with the right technical or digital skills for their business will know just how hard it is to find the right candidates.
Training people to fill those roles is the prime target of the new South Central Institute of Technology (SCIoT) in Bletchley. The SCIoT is now up and running, with the first students beginning courses that will launch them into a digital future, and local businesses are being urged to take advantage of this great new addition to the talent pipeline. Companies can ensure they find the recruits they need for particular roles by actually helping shape the curriculum – literally guaranteeing students learn precisely the skills businesses need.
The SCIoT consortium, led by Milton Keynes College, landed a grant of £26m from the Department for Education in a national competition – the largest sum awarded to any Institute of Technology, reflecting its importance to the city and the wider region. Consortium partners include global companies like Microsoft, McAfee and KPMG and important local brands like Cranfield University and CCL Evidence Talks.
The SCIoT is expected to welcome a thousand students and apprentices a year onto new digital courses and is the only place in Milton Keynes offering higher technical qualifications equivalent to university level, as well as short courses. The curriculum is being created with substantial input from business to ensure the skills taught will be the ones local industry is crying out for.
Principal, Alex Warner said: “This is a whole new concept for education in Britain. The SCIoT will be an inclusive centre for technical qualifications, higher apprenticeships and training to plug the growing gap between demand and supply for key technical and digital roles, including cyber security. Students can choose to complete their studies in person, blended, or online as part of our Lifestyle Learning approach. They’ll be taught by amazing people with up-to-date experience in tech businesses and they’ll work on real world problems supplied by our partners. This a real joint effort by business and education to train people for the careers of the future.”
Around half the teaching will be delivered by dual professionals, many of whom will come from the project partners and local businesses. These will also be involved in designing the curriculum, making sure that everything taught will be relevant to jobs and careers now and in the future.
“Local businesses can get involved in so many ways here,” said Alex. “Business people are already helping to decide exactly what should be studied and putting forward their own real problems as projects for students to work on. We’re always looking for guest lecturers and mentors from local companies, and they don’t need to be teachers, just know what they want and the skills that matter. The SCIoT is all about creating talent pipelines feeding directly into the local and regional economy.
“We’ve already designed new courses with our partners and there are things people can study here today which just aren’t available anywhere else in the country.”
Another unique feature of the SCIoT is its plan to ensure that the people studying reflect the community of Milton Keynes and the wider area it serves. The SCIoT operates an EDI (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion) Steering Group and is already making progress in attracting students from harder-to-reach groups.
Of students already recruited, 52% are from a Black, Asian, or Ethnic Minority background, 37% are disabled or neurodiverse, while 22% are female.
Alex added: “We believe it’s really important to serve the whole community, not just parts of it. The best businesses are often the ones with the most diverse groups of people running them and working in them.”
Today when virtually every business has a digital element to it there are huge shortages, particularly in this area.
While the main campus of the SCIoT will be at Bletchley, it will also be delivered in Oxford and Reading. The region from Oxford to Cambridge through Milton Keynes was identified in the government’s Industrial Strategy as key for growth in the first part of this century making the SCIoT ideally placed to take advantage of that expansion and to provide the people it will need to succeed.
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