Businesses need colleges, and colleges need businesses – it’s a mantra that has rung true for decades but has arguably never been more apt.
In an ever-evolving landscape, with an ageing workforce finding it an increasing struggle to keep up with changes brought on by never-ending technological developments, very obvious skills gaps have highlighted the huge roles colleges have to play in providing the workforce of the future.
By carefully mapping its curriculum to the very specific needs of local employers, Northampton College is leading the way in developing the skills of a new generation of tech-savvy employees looking to make their mark in the world of work.
Northampton College is working closely with the board of the recently formed Local Skills Improvement Plan to ensure more businesses are engaged, there is more shared strategic thinking, and local provision is reflective of emerging skills needs.
Principal Pat Brennan-Barrett sits on the board at SEMLEP and chairs the Skills Advisory Panel, which has been devised to promote collaboration, prioritise employment and skills, and lead on collaborative funding bids to drive regional economic recovery and growth.
“Northampton College plays a key role in helping to support employers and learners by providing high-quality professional and technical training that supports local, regional and national labour market needs and skills gaps. These sectors include construction, engineering and manufacturing, digital and technology, health and social care, business and finance, creative industries and logistics.
“We invest heavily in understanding the labour market and use a range of tools and intelligence to identify current and future demand, ensuring our provision is aligned to community need, local employment opportunities and support regional and national priorities where relevant.
“This enables the sharing of good practice in careers education and ensures that the College is up to date with economic developments in the region. The increasing partnerships with Northamptonshire employers can be seen in the expanding range of visits and speakers that are increasingly embedded in curriculum areas.”
Northampton College has a curriculum map that spans a wide range of subjects from Entry Level to Level 5, including programmes for students with learning difficulties and or disabilities, to those on higher education (HE) courses.
It works with multiple local employers, including the likes of Cosworth, Taylor Wimpey, Wincanton, DHL and Church’s Shoes, to ensure everything students learn in the classroom is relevant to what they will be doing day in, day out in the workplace.
The curriculum map is regularly reviewed and is based on employer feedback to ensure it matches the ambitions and demands of Northamptonshire’s employers. The curriculum offer will further develop to reflect the national drive for skills development, technical and professional qualifications, T Levels in sectors of regional importance, and a focus on apprenticeship opportunities for young people.
This approach is paying dividends for employers, who are able to recruit from a pool of talented young professionals ready to hit the ground running in their chosen careers. Students, meanwhile, are benefiting from a carefully curated study programme that’s relevant to good jobs with good employers and gives them the opportunity to secure high grades.
Over a period of seven years to 2019, student outcomes as measured in national performance tables continually improved, with Northampton College’s ranking rising from a lower quartile position to being a top 10 college in the National Achievement Rate Tables (NART). Such data was suspended during the pandemic, but recent publication of performance data for 2021/22 illustrates that Northampton College has sustained its position as a top 10 college nationally with a rank of seventh for both 16-18 education and training and for adult provision.
The college has significant strengths in health and social care, engineering, creative industries, construction, catering and digital. The pass rate stands at an impressive 97%, and 94% of students progress to further study or employment.