Teesside University has pivoted its offering to deliver accessible programmes, aimed at developing skills for the future

As the region faces down coronavirus and its economic challenges, workforce skills were never more important than now.

Important for businesses, to help them stay resilient and competitive, and important for the people whose working worlds have changed so radically and who need to adapt to a new future.

Teesside University has worked with partners to flex its offer in response to the pandemic, and deliver accessible programmes aimed at providing the skills for future growth.

Leading on digital skills

As lockdown restrictions began to take hold earlier in the year, the university rapidly re-structured its popular Digital Skills for Growth programme to make it a fully online experience.

The quick thinking meant that public, private and voluntary sector professionals in Tees Valley and County Durham were still able to take advantage of free provision, from tasters to short accredited courses.

Eight courses, in combinations of half-day and full-day sessions, are open to professionals from any sector or size of organisation, including furloughed workers. They cover art for games and film, coding, data visualisation, developing personalised business intelligence solutions with Microsoft POWER BI, digital marketing, making sense of digital business, and web production.

Delivered by the university’s School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies, the programme is part-funded in Durham by the European Social Fund, and in Tees Valley by the university. Tees Valley SMEs can also benefit from mentoring provided by DigitalCity, to help their employees gain maximum benefit from their participation.

“Given the unprecedented situation, we adapted our project for the immediate short-term and changed the way we delivered some of our accredited courses so that everything is online,” explained Siobhan Fenton, the Associate Dean (Enterprise and Business Engagement) in the School of Computing, Engineering & Digital Technologies.

“Whilst we understand that minds are focused on the immediate challenges, given the positive feedback we had originally from organisations about our training, we wanted to offer people the opportunity to continue to access the courses in a safe environment. It presented a fantastic opportunity for public, private and voluntary sector employees to future-proof their digital skills. Importantly there is no charge for the courses.

“The world in which we work, live and play is clearly changing and we need to keep up with technology in all aspects of our lives. Digital technology, particularly artificial intelligence and data analytics, has introduced revolutionary changes in every sector to enhance efficiency, increase productivity and reduce costs. Arguably this is going to be even more important for business once the coronavirus pandemic has passed.”

For primary and secondary school teachers – and non-teaching staff – in schools signing up to the Digital Skills for Growth programme, there is also
a six-week lesson plan to take back to school and deliver to pupils. “Whilst again we understand that teachers are extremely focused at this time, the bespoke training will help to address the digital skills gaps and teacher training needs in the region that were identified by schools and we wanted to deliver against our original promise to help them,” Siobhan said.

DigitalCity director Lynsey Robinson added: “With our extensive network of digital expertise, DigitalCity is able to provide a mentoring service that will help businesses come out of this crisis stronger than ever. We want to support as many local businesses in the Tees Valley as we possibly can during these challenging times.”

Anyone who completes the short accredited courses will receive a University Certificate in Professional Development in Digital Skills.

For more information, please email digitalskillsforgrowth@tees.ac.uk or call 01642 738701/07917 473992.

Supporting apprentices through the pandemic

Successful interventions from Teesside University meant that over 96 per cent of students on higher or degree apprenticeships were able to continue their studies throughout lockdown.

Teesside University offers a wide portfolio of degree apprenticeships, in subjects ranging from health to business leadership, allowing learners to study for a degree while in full-time employment.

As the UK went into lockdown, with many employers switching to remote working or furloughing staff, the university worked out ways to support apprentices to continue their off-the-job training, a critical part of all apprenticeships.

Apprentices faced challenges with continuing their studies, including concerns about managing workloads, redeployment into frontline roles, or dealing with the impact of furlough or remote working. Initially, many thought that learning could not continue in these changed circumstances.

However, with support from the university, those apprentices still actively working were able to take the opportunity to learn new skills, such as managing situations or teams in a different setting, as part of their apprenticeship. Furloughed apprentices were supported in their learning and portfolio preparation.

Progress reviews were increased in frequency to support both apprentice and employer.

Laura Woods, director of Academic Enterprise at Teesside University, said, “Ensuring that apprenticeship delivery 65 continued throughout lockdown was a major priority for us.

“We’re pleased that the measures we took to keep employers and apprentices fully engaged have helped to quell anxieties and maintain high levels of retention.

“As a result, only 32 of the university’s 898 apprentices had to take a break in learning.

“We’re looking forward to seeing them all achieve their apprenticeships and progress their careers.”

Teesside University