Nick Rudkin, Director of Business, Engagement and Apprenticeships at Doncaster College, explains how important it is for colleges to work with employers and to ensure that teachers are up to date with their industry knowledge.

The challenge

Doncaster College has been delivering apprenticeships successfully for a long time, but the last few years have presented a whole new world of opportunity and complication, including the new levy funding system. 

The UK Government has worked hard to promote apprenticeships and has introduced incentives for employers to become involved, but following the economic recession, there were still reservations within the commercial community about investing in them. With severe skills shortages in many industry sectors, we needed to find new ways of engaging with employers and students. Apprenticeship providers had to reassure employers that apprentices are not expensive, time-consuming or unreliable, while addressing student misconceptions around poor wages, uninspiring work and dead-end jobs.

The Doncaster solution

At Doncaster College, we have introduced employer forums, which allow industry experts to promote skills development within their sectors. This enables us to improve the skills of our lecturers while identifying the industrial opportunities for our students.

We have also begun to employ industry experts to deliver masterclass sessions at the college, and we send our lecturers out into industry to remind them of what the workplace is like in terms of challenges and skills. 

The construction industry is part of our innovative approach to providing skilled staff, including a nine-week intensive skills training programme, followed by four weeks of work experience and then progression into apprenticeships. 

To make student selection easier for employers, we have a dedicated recruitment team who advertise vacancies, prepare candidates for interviews, and make the whole process as simple as possible for employers and students alike.

Having been an apprentice myself, I feel a strong allegiance to the system and believe that this is the solution to rising skills shortages. If a business needs to grow or if it simply needs more skilled staff, then an injection of ‘new blood’ is simple and effective in the form of an apprentice.

Support from employers and students

Employers are finding the process valuable. Dave Horner, operations manager at Smith Brothers Wholesale Ltd, says, “It is really important to bring apprentices into the workplace. I have a great workforce, but it won’t be here forever and I need to harness the skills we might lose with the new generation of apprentices”.

Tasha Jackson is an apprentice in digital marketing. She said, “I have learnt so much from the people around me and feel confident that I am making a positive contribution to the company. I am now qualified to Level Four but don’t have any university debt, and I also have a full-time job.”

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