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10th April 2018

College is leading the way in battle to bridge skills gap

When it comes to talking the language of business and equipping young people with the essential skills to maximise their employability, few institutions do it better than The City of Liverpool College.

Ranked in the top 25% of further education (FE) establishments in the country by Ofsted, the college is also the highest performing learning hub of its type in the Liverpool City Region, based on Department of Education figures.

Its success has been underlined recently by the launch on site of the North West’s first academy for computer aided design (CAD), where professionals of all ages are signing up to become the next generation of digital designers and technicians.

And there was introduction of Pepper – a robot working at the college’s dedicated digital academy – teaching important computer-based skills to learners.

All this is in the face of swinging cuts in funding – one year amounting to £8m – as the college, led by principal Elaine Bowker since 2011, bids to continue to innovate in what is well-known as the Cinderella education sector of FE.

Funding per capita in FE amounts to a paltry £3,800, compared to £5,000 for school-age pupils and university students at £9,000.

While Bowker is keen to celebrate the college’s achievements, she does hold back on the issue of funding.

“I think if the Government was serious about the Northern Powerhouse, it would be serious about further education funding, and would fund it at the same level that it funds higher education per capita,” she said.

Having worked in Germany and later as strategic director transformation in the same office as Sir Howard Bernstein when he was chief executive at Manchester City Council, before she moved down the East Lancashire Road to Liverpool, Bowker had a clear view of how to turn round a college which had been under performing before she arrived in 2011.

“I’m a big fan of the German system,” she told “There, employers and colleges work hand in hand. That’s why we want to be the college for business.

“Ultimately, we are about skills and talent and we have a very good reputation with the LEP, as well as employers big and small.

“We know that skills are a big issue in terms of the ongoing worries over UK productivity. We aim for our students to be as employable as possible, and we know this is successful because we get really good feedback.

“The courses we deliver and the skills we develop in our students are what employers want. They’re up to date and that’s why they come to us.

“Sometimes the courses are providing talent for the future and sometimes companies are sending employees to the college for upskilling.” she said.

The college has about 10,000 students, predominantly, 16 to 24-year-olds, but there is a large number of 19 to 24 years olds as well as other adults training or reskilling. There are about 800 staff working at the college.

It has also attained TEF Gold standard (Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework) and has crossed over to provide higher education (HE) provision in social work, digital and technology, performing arts and dental technology.

It also offers specialist HE courses in hospitality, engineering and construction.

“We score with the quality of our teaching and learning,” Bowker went on. “We’ve also got really good links with employers, so all of our students go on to really good destinations.”

Bowker also hailed the impact the college was making in the so called “cold spots” of the city – areas where there are very few people progressing to university – where largely first-generation graduates come from.

The college does not just talk the talk, it walks the walk, with close links with Siemens in the engineering area and was the first college in the world to achieve accredited status as a Microsoft College.

It carries out training programmes for Laing O’Rourke and Balfour Beatty as well as for Malmaison and Signature Living, the Liverpool-based aparthotel specialist and is the only college accredited to carry out training for the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.

“All the top end restaurants have chefs who have trained here,” said Bowker. So, with all this in mind, does Bowker have the answer to the much-talked-about skills gap which is having a negative effect on UK productivity?

“The answer is, stop making it complicated,” she said. “It’s about talking to employers and understanding business needs. About talking business, not education, quite frankly.

“I come from a business background and I know it’s important to understand what the business priorities are.”


Above article written by Education correspondent, Nick Jackson, – published 12.01.18

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