The challenge facing young people is the same as the one facing college principals — develop your skills and your offer if you want to survive, explains Signe Sutherland.

The entrepreneurial mindset has become a necessity for the next generation workforce, faced with an unprecedentedly challenging and volatile employment market.

It is no different for college leaders, who must lead this change from the front, setting the right example and creating new income sources.

That is the challenge we have sought to address at North Hertfordshire College, having decided three years ago to invest in a long term transformation with the aim of becoming a leading and recognisable entrepreneurial college.

It has meant fundamental changes to pedagogy: the need to provide our students with a more commercial and applied learning experience has been at the core of a curriculum change programme that has now been underway for two years.

We are creating new learning environments that allow students to develop an understanding of commercial realities alongside development of skills and progress towards qualifications.

Although in their infancy, we are already seeing how this model can prepare learners to succeed either within an existing business or by creating their own employment.

Our challenge now is to continue to develop with the scale and efficiency more typically associated with the corporate world.

At North Hertfordshire College, we cannot afford to make the level of investment in technology-supported delivery that is needed, if we simply try to secure that innovation from within our college budget.

Our challenge now is to continue to develop with the scale and efficiency more typically associated with the corporate world

Instead, by clustering together with a group of like-minded colleges in Gazelle, we can explore bigger solutions and begin to test our ability to make the sort of large investments that will be needed to deliver affordable learning to increasing numbers of employers, employees and students in our communities.

There is of course a financial as well as a curriculum imperative in the redesign and the re-engineering of our curriculum delivery processes.

Put simply, we don’t think the funding exists, in either the short or longer term, to deliver vocational programmes in the manner and style that we have delivered in the past.

The notion of a wholly tutor-supported vocational learning environment, timetabled for convenience in a constrained organisational structure is no longer acceptable either to students or staff.

The good news is that we can deliver better learning experiences by having the courage to embrace self-organised learning, and develop commercial learning opportunities, embedding students within college or local businesses.

Teaching must be paid for, but learning can occur in a wide variety of settings that do not always need to incur the cost of the teaching process.

Students can access the college resources and learning environments 24/7 and we need to enable them to do so.

Across our group, and indeed across the wider sector, we are seeing real innovations in the imaginative planning and creation of opportunities for students to engage in
college across the whole day while accessing tutoring for a reducing part of their programme.

Our ambition is to embed science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) in our vocational curriculum and indeed to use Stem centres as experimental areas for learners where they can experience both self-organised learning and sustain project developments that meet with a different financial and learning vision than had hitherto been possible.

We need more initiatives and innovations and we are likely to achieve those by working collaboratively and by sharing the best practice that undoubtedly exists within almost all of our colleges across the UK.

North Hertfordshire College has put innovation and entrepreneurship at the very core of its investment and its mission to sustain a vibrant and successful college over the next five years.

With traditional funding and revenue sources set only to diminish in the years ahead, for colleges the only way is surely innovation.

Signe Sutherland, principal, North Hertfordshire College