Birmingham already had a college on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers, and it fills an important gap in provision, says Clair Mowbray

Over the past few editions FE Week has been telling us that from May this year the Second City will have no colleges able to deliver apprenticeships, as all four existing Birmingham colleges failed to get on the apprenticeship register.

While we were pleased to learn that South & City College Birmingham has now been added to RoATP, we would like to set the record straight that Birmingham would already have had at least one education institution offering apprenticeships from September, when the National College for High Speed Rail opens its doors.

We are filling a gap in FE provision

The Government has invested £80m to create five new employer-led National Colleges in Britain to make sure that our young people learn world-class skills in key sectors such as digital media, nuclear, creative, oil and gas and high speed rail.

In doing so it is filling a gap in FE provision. The tight links National Colleges have developed with employers mean business can shape these institutions and help them produce workers with the skills they need.

The colleges also provide highly targeted learning opportunities in sectors that are key to the future of the British economy, ensuring that British workers will be at the forefront of these growth industries by creating a pipeline of British talent.

The rail industry is a case in point.

Over the next five years it is estimated that businesses in Britain will need 182,000 new engineers every year. Right now, we’re falling short by 69,000 engineers a year. Moreover, one in five rail engineers is currently aged over 55.  

A lack of skilled workers within our workforce is one of the reasons that the productivity of British workers remains stubbornly low when compared with other nations. As our Chancellor Phillip Hammond lamented, it effectively takes a German worker four days to produce what the UK makes in five.

The new National Colleges will play a central role in producing a generation of young people who are genuinely ready to hit the ground running when they start their working careers.

These issues are symptoms of the brain drain

With campuses in both Doncaster and Birmingham, the National College of High Speed Rail will also help counter the northern brain drain.

Around 30,000 young people move out of the region every year after graduating from northern universities. And in 2013 alone, there were around 25,000 vacancies in the Midlands that were hard to fill due to a lack of suitably skilled applicants (around a fifth of all such skills shortages in England).

Both these issues are symptoms of the brain drain our regions suffer as talented young workers gravitate towards London, putting the future competitiveness and prosperity of our regions at risk.   

While there are excellent FE colleges already established across both the North and the Midlands, there is a dearth of institutions offering more advanced qualifications at Level 4 as the National Colleges will, and we are interested in partnering with colleges across both regions to help improve students’ skills.

At a governing level, we are also backing important initiatives such as the Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy and the Midlands Skills Strategy. 

We have an essential role to play in supporting the ambitions of both Transport for the North and Midlands Connect as these new transport bodies look to fulfil the ambitions of the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine by creating transport-led regeneration to improve connectivity for businesses and workers across those regions.

The future success of Britain depends on us getting this right

If we are to solve the brain drain from our regions then we need to make these areas more attractive as places where people can learn world-class skills, then stay to find quality jobs and enjoy a higher standard of living.

With more than £500bn worth of UK infrastructure projects currently in the pipeline, this is a prime time for young people to begin preparing for a career in British industry.

The National Colleges will provide a new, employer-led blueprint for helping to tackle Britain’s skills shortages and provide businesses with the young talent they need. The future success of Britain depends on us getting this right and we are extraordinarily motivated to do so.

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