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As employers continue to grapple with post-pandemic skills shortages, Steven Hugill talks to Middlesbrough College Group’s Matt Telling about its extensive apprenticeship offer, and learns how engaging with the next generation can catalyse business growth.
Matt Telling stops and leans against a building, the right shoulder of his grey blazer kissing its red brick façade.
Above his head, arched windows, a central oculus and decorative corbelling evoke memories of the structure’s bygone days as home to ship chandler and sailmaker JW Storrow & Co.
Watched over by the town’s famous Transporter Bridge, it today stands part of Middlesbrough College Group’s sprawling Middlehaven campus.
And while its weather-worn frontage differs markedly from the sparkling silver flecks of a neighbouring modern learning centre, the past hasn’t been lost in the present.
Far from it.
Where the former factory once helped drive an industrial revolution, today it is part of another significant transformation, one that is providing the foundations for students – including myriad apprentices – to build successful futures.
And in a jobs market where employers – buffeted by COVID-19 staff attrition and a sustainability drive demanding new skills – struggle to find suitably practised employees, the value of its apprenticeship offer has arguably never been more important.
The group delivers in excess of 100 courses to thousands of learners every year across all levels, through its apprenticeship and training company Northern Skills and sister operation TTE Technical, which supports local and international students’ journeys in the oil and gas, process, manufacturing and engineering sectors.
Pairing classroom learning with workplace experience, Northern Skills covers a raft of disciplines from accounting, catering, dental, construction and engineering, to areas including hospitality, healthcare, IT and computing, manufacturing and teaching.
And from September, its delivery will extend again, with new level four and five civil engineering and level five audio visual technician apprenticeships rolling out remotely, in what will be a UK first.
“We work across the whole spectrum, with a real mixture of students from York up to Berwick-upon-Tweed,” says Matt, group director of business engagement and partnerships.
He adds: “We support school leavers looking to take a course and, through our in-house apprenticeship recruitment team, provide shortlists of students’ CVs to companies.
“Then, once learners have begun their apprenticeships, our team of assessors and regional managers work in conjunction with employers to ensure their success.
“We have well-established relationships with companies like British Steel, Anglo American and Sembcorp Energy UK, which have rolling apprenticeship programmes, but there are others that come to us to upskill existing employers too.”
And Matt says in the present climate, where organisations have more vacancies than talent to fill them, the worth of engaging with apprentices is incredibly valuable.
He says: “Apprentices are adaptive and responsive, soak up information like sponges and quickly become ingrained in a company’s culture.
“They go into things with no preconceptions, have fresh ideas and want to advance.
“And the model works – you only need to look at the number of employers we work with who are led by former Middlesbrough College Group apprentices to see its impact.”
Matt adds: “Our internal recruitment team plays a crucial role too.
“We have three apprentices, including one who has just passed his course with distinction, and they are terrific at engaging with younger learners.
“They go into classrooms and speak at events, and create a real generational link.”
Equally important in the group’s delivery are T Levels, which act as an alternative to A levels and apprenticeships by complementing 45-day placements with classroom time.
Matt says: “We were early adopters of T Levels, and they have been really successful.
“A number of students have completed placements and moved into apprenticeships, and the more meaningful and engaging links we can create, the better placed learners are to succeed.”
And such focus on delivering a well-informed educational journey is reflected in Middlesbrough College Group’s ever-changing provision too.
With the pandemic having accelerated retirements and career pivots, and with the landscape shifting dramatically towards greater sustainability and developments such as Redcar’s low-carbon Teesworks hub, Matt says the group is constantly reassessing its disciplines to meet employers’ needs.
And that extends to a new TTE base, which will switch from nearby South Bank to the group’s Middlehaven campus in 2024.
Matt says: “With the volumes of projects coming up, and the scale of workers required, the skilled people don’t exist in a lot of cases at present.
“And employers are having to think very differently too; it’s not as simple – or sustainable – to look at agency staff or recruit people from rival operators any more.
“So we’re working with them, right from the beginning, listening to their needs and aligning our provision, which includes our facilities.
“Our new TTE building will have a large section for clean energy work, to make sure we’re servicing existing and future skills needs.”
Matt adds: “Businesses need to build, and in some cases rebuild, their workforces, and we are committed, through our apprenticeship courses, to help them do so and be successful.”
With the academic year having now come to a close, a huge cohort of potential new apprentices are entering the jobs market. If you’re a business keen on recruiting young staff to bolster your team, contact Northern Skills.
Visit www.mbro.ac.uk/apprenticeships or call 01642 333333 for more information.
By Middlesbrough College