Tees Valley colleges secure £2.5m funding to bridge skills gaps

Colleges across the Tees Valley have joined forces with North-east businesses to tackle a widening skills gap after securing £2.5m of government funding.

The move is part of a drive to help people launch careers in key industries, upskill the workforce through innovative projects and boost economic growth across the region.

A £2.5m grant allocated by the Department for Education will provide equipment and staff development training for a host of initiatives to be delivered at Redcar and Cleveland College, Stockton Riverside College, NETA Training (all part of the Education Training Collective), along with Darlington College, Middlesbrough College, Hartlepool College, Hartlepool Sixth Form College, and the Learning Curve Group and will involve partnering with the North East Chamber of Commerce, which has been working closely with thousands of businesses across the region.

Education Training Collective sites

Investment is being targeted to address the region’s specific skills needs, which have been identified as priority sectors in Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs).

Research has identified a host of unfilled opportunities in sectors such as green energy, the digital industry, construction and health and social care, areas that are carrying thousands of vacancies for skilled staff.

Darlington College’s strategic projects and skills manager and LSIF project lead Alan Jones said: “After many months of planning I’m thrilled our partnership has been awarded this important funding to support local skills improvement in the Tees Valley.

“Working with key local employers and the support of the North East Chamber of Commerce, we have chosen priority projects which will best serve the region and we can’t wait to get started.”

North East Chamber of Commerce assistant director of policy Rachel Anderson said: “LSIPs provide us with the opportunity to shape the future of the region’s skills and talent pipeline, so it’s excellent for our colleges and universities to have received support to offer more training opportunities across key sectors.

“The Chamber has worked with over 3,000 businesses to ensure the correct training provision is in place to meet skills needs and opportunities and to ensure we avoid gaps in the future.”

Education Training Collective (Etc.) chief executive and group principal Grant Glendinning said: “This welcome investment in local skills projects will enable us to build on our commitment to meet employers’ skill demands, particularly in the green and health sectors, and in doing so, develop a pipeline of local talent.

“The addition of industrial size training facilities at Redcar and Cleveland College to simulate hydrogen creation, application and use, as well as enhanced welding, pipefitting and fabrication facilities, an upskilled scaffolding offer at NETA Training, and exciting developments in health at Stockton Riverside College, will further build on the specialist training opportunities available in the Tees Valley in readiness to respond to inward investment and economic growth in the region and beyond.”

Middlesbrough College’s deputy principal and chief executive Ben Robinson said: “We are delighted to see the exciting collaborative work between colleges and businesses in the Tees Valley recognised and look forward to the state of the art facilities this will bring to our site in health care, net-zero technology and modern methods of construction.

“The developments will be crucial in addressing the skills shortages and employment gaps within our region and will provide our learners with the resources required to develop industry-essential occupational and soft skills to contribute to their and the region’s future economic prosperity.”

Darlington College principal and chief executive David Gartland added: “We are so pleased our submission has been recognised as meeting the needs of the local labour market. Investment in the delivery of health, social care, renewable energies and green construction will benefit us all across the Tees Valley.

“This renewed focus on skills delivery will allow boot camps and apprenticeships to flourish thanks to new investment in our equipment and the upskilling of our teaching staff. Students of all ages will benefit from this investment and it couldn’t have come at a better time, with so many jobs becoming available across the Tees Valley in these key skills sectors.”

Darren Hankey, principal and chief executive, Hartlepool College of Further Education, added: “To see that the collaborative hard work that has gone into securing this investment has paid off is incredible. An opportunity to further support countless organisations with recruitment, retention and re-skilling of staff is most welcome to the Tees Valley. Hartlepool College of Further Education is well known for its skill set in producing future workforces for sectors such as health and social care, construction, and engineering – boosting the skills in digitalisation and green energy. All of the equipment and proposed skills techniques that have been added to the LSIF have been designed by employers to ensure their needs are met. This will allow people to gain the fundamental skills that are required to build a career in the Tees Valley and address the real needs that emerged from the LSIP report.”

Principal of Sunderland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form Toni Rhodes said: “We are delighted to be working with other providers in the Tees Valley to address collectively the local skills needs identified through the LSIP, ensuring Tees Valley residents have the skills required to access local jobs.”

Chief executive of Learning Curve Group Brenda McLeish added: “I’m delighted that Learning Curve Group has been able to support the development of the North East’s Local Skills Improvement Plan and is a player in the team of providers delivering against the plan in the region. Together, we’ve highlighted some essential skills for the North-east, and our combined effective delivery will set our region up for future success and prosperity.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the investment was aimed at boosting local industry, building people’s skills and ultimately futureproofing the economy and the career prospects of the next generation.

She said: “Our local skills projects will bring together regional organisations, businesses and education providers to respond to the specific needs of employers, building an increasingly skilled workforce. Thousands more people can now gain the skills they need to secure good jobs closer to home.”

Demand for green skills is set to rise in particular as the government works to create energy security and the UK heads towards net zero.

The transition to a green and sustainable future will support hundreds of thousands of exciting green job opportunities in areas such as heat pump installation, retro-fitting energy efficient materials, solar panel upkeep, electric vehicle manufacturing and charging maintenance, as well as environmental consultancy.

Health and social care has a huge appetite for skilled staff to improve access to high quality care and cut waiting lists.