Gateshead College is helping businesses across all sectors get ahead of the game by building an agile, digital- savvy workforce for the future. Chris Toon, deputy principal of the college, explains why the organisation is embracing digital tech in all areas of its curriculum – and why digital literacy is essential for a successful economy…

Gateshead College
www.gateshead.ac.uk
@gatesheadcoll

“Digital tech cuts across every single industry and, put simply, companies can’t get by without embracing it, applying and integrating it into their business and taking advantage of new technologies that come on stream.

“That was a key message at the recent launch of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) digital strategy, which aims to bring together businesses, education providers, digital networks and enterprises to find new ways of getting the most out of opportunities for growth and investment. To achieve this, our region needs an agile, adaptable workforce that’s fit for the future, one that can grasp these opportunities at home and abroad.

“At Gateshead College, we get this. We know that education isn’t just for young people. That’s why we’re working with the LEP, businesses and digital communities to identify the digital skills companies need now, anticipate what skills they’ll need five years down the line and build a workforce to suit. We’re educating firms to think differently; long gone are the days where UK employees work 9 to 5.

“This is why we have piloted our own programme to gain a greater understanding of how agile working can create ways of improving the learning and working environments. More than 100 staff and students at the college took part in the six- month pilot, which explored various ways of using technology to increase flexible working, make best use of available space, reduce existing paper trails and cut down on unnecessary travel to improve the environment.

“Not only has this been a great way of developing our teachers and future leaders, it’s influencing the content of our leadership and management courses, which have benefited staff from Virgin Money and other local firms. We’re encouraging them to look at key issues, such as how to motivate employees who work remotely or how to have productive meetings with an off-site workforce by using innovative technologies.

“In partnership with Sunderland University and Country Durham and Darlington Fire & Rescue Service, we’re also developing a bespoke leadership and management apprenticeship that identifies what issues each company has, what support they need to increase the digital literacy of their workforce, and how they can help employees use technology to further their personal and social development.

“Essentially, we’re getting them to challenge long-held assumptions – that you’re only productive if you’re based in the office.

We’ve even put this to the test by getting some of our students to log into lessons remotely; there was no drop-off in output from those that did. We’re constantly looking at how we can help employers become more productive and achieve a better work-life balance for their staff – and building an agile workforce is essential for this to happen.

“In the next five years there won’t be a single role available that won’t have an element of digital in it – whether they’re a widget-maker in a small manufacturing firm, a promising athlete or a healthcare professional working for an established public sector organisation – a point widely recognised at the LEP’s digital strategy launch.

“We’re making great strides in this area, introducing digital tech across all elements of our curriculum so students get the skills they need for a successful career and employers get the skills they need to grow, develop and compete.

“We do things differently. Take our partnership with the emerging technology centre, PROTO, which, as you’d imagine, provides our digital tech students with a fantastic opportunity to learn from leading organisations in the industry and work with new technology as it emerges. However, it’s not just these students who are reaping the rewards from our unique partnership, all areas of the curriculum have the opportunity to use the cutting edge technology for example sport and dance students are using it to explore the dynamics of movement and speed.

“We’re also introducing VR and AR kit into our classrooms to add an extra dimension to the learning experience for our students. For instance, our early years students are using their mobile phones and a VR app to monitor the growth of a foetus.

Through the use of this technology we’re finding they are really engaged with the subject and will retain the information due to the visual nature of the experience.

“Our focus and use of digital skills is only set to grow as new technology emerges and our challenge as a college is to stay ahead of the game so that our students, apprentices and the business we work with are primed and ready to embrace and make the most of these opportunities.”

To find out more about Gateshead College and the courses on offer, visit: www.gateshead.ac.uk/employer.