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How to run successful employer hubs

04 March 2024

I hadn’t been working at Telford College long when I submitted the application for the 2023/24 Beacon Awards Beacon Awards. To me, it was immediately clear how much difference the college’s employer hubs made to businesses, employers, the local communities and students both in college and externally.

The hubs are a scalable blueprint for employer engagement: they support local people and businesses to access 21st century skills and training, and ensure that students, communities and partnering employers have access to the cutting edge, innovative technology they need to acquire world class skills and knowledge.

To begin with, the aim of the hubs was to formalise our working partnerships with employers, and a provide a forum in which employers could come together and share good practice on training and upskilling. Through this, we hoped they’d be encouraged to contribute to curriculum planning. However, the hubs have developed to be so much more.

We currently have three hubs all tackling specific skills gaps in our region.

Maths, digital education and enterprise hub
Launched in 2022, the maths, digital education and enterprise hub is demand led, interactive and includes key representatives from local employers. It is a centre of excellence focused on meeting business need and demand in sectors such as cybersecurity, AI and robotics, virtual and augmented reality, cloud computing, wireless technologies, 5G innovation, and more. Critically, it has enabled us to break the cycle of difficulty experienced by FE colleges across the country when it comes to securing work placements for students studying the digital T Level: through our Hub we have successfully placed all students in pathway specific environments, with offers of support to spare. The hub has also been an opportunity to expand the college’s provision in a way which is accessible to a greater proportion of people across the borough, raising people’s aspirations and supporting local employers to ensure they can develop the sort of workforce they require and help to retain skilled employees in the area.

NHS hub
Nearly 10% of NHS posts across the Marches area (Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin, and Herefordshire) are currently unfilled, placing huge pressure on the health and social care services. Our NHS hub led to the creation of the Health Care Academy which has gone some way to alleviating these pressures. Since its conception 802 learners have completed the two-week induction course and gone on to sustained employment within the NHS, working as health care assistants, across the West Midlands, Shropshire and Herefordshire.

When the academy was established 500 health care assistant posts were vacant. Today, there are no vacant posts: the local NHS agency pay bill has reduced by more than £1 million per annum.

Engineering hub
The Work Academy, introduced within the engineering hub, allows employers to offer work placements to full time students and real-life project work to support the further development of skills. Students are selected to participate in the academy based on positive behaviour and commitment towards engineering and this has seen a 34% increase in students gaining an engineering related apprenticeship. The learning, teaching and assessment teams benefit from the collaboration and can complete industrial updating to ensure that their skills remain current.

We truly believe that the employer hub blueprint developed by our college and employer partners has something to offer all further education establishments.

We view employers as strategic partners in the design of the curriculum, rather than consumers of courses, and together our shared understanding quickly identifies critical skills issues.

The hubs roll out and build on an already close working relationship with local and national businesses – giving employers a greater chance to help shape the curriculum in a way which meets industry skills shortages, delivering tomorrow’s talent today.

They support employers to drive change, innovation and investment, and make a major contribution to the economic success of the region – in line with key economic and training priorities identified by organisations such as the CBI, FSB, LEP, and Chambers of Commerce.

My advice for others who are looking to introduce something similar would be to be bold and prepared to step out of a traditional approach to employer engagement. If you’d like to find out more about our journey, we would be happy to hear from you.

Jackie Bradnick is the Lead Work Experience Coordinator at Telford College.

Find out more about sponsoring an AoC Beacon Award here.