Connecting industry with education during COVID-19

Covid-19 | Covid-19 Advice | Education | South West | Sponsored

Dave Crew, Head of Business Growth & Employer Partnership, Weston College shares his thoughts on how Weston College and the wider education sector in the UK has adapted to the coronavirus pandemic.

I think we can all agree that it’s a challenging time for employers, employees and those in education at the moment as we all try and adapt the way we work and learn, and try to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 to our business operations.

At Weston College, despite having to transform our entire college with online teaching before the lockdown, our staff have impressed with their energy, focus and entrepreneurial spirit, responding to our #MyVirtualCollege initiative under the inspirational leadership of Dr Paul Phillips CBE, our Principal and Chief Executive and his Leadership Board.

We’ve seen online bricklaying, hair and make-up and cookery lessons, and industry leaders from across the UK inspiring our learners by delivering virtual guest lectures, including the director of Star Wars speaking with our film and media students. The pace of new ideas, the response from our teams, and the way business and community partners are supporting each other is so impressive.

Even in challenging times, we cannot stand still. Now is the time to plan, create and drive strategy with our teams.

A key focus of the College, one of the largest in the UK with over 30,000 annual course enrolments, is to make strong connections between the college and employers, building long-term partnerships. Connecting industry to education is a mission that we’ve driven for many years receiving regional and national recognition. Despite Covid-19 and any ‘bumps in the road’, we must continue to connect, innovate, and drive the evolution of our education programmes.

In the past couple of months, we’ve established Industry Advisory Boards, bringing together business leaders to create forums for employers to connect with our teams, creating and delivering action plans together in the next 12 months. Advisory boards have been mobilised in Law, Construction, Digital Technology, Health, Finance and Professional Services. The commitment from board members has been impressive and the ideas being created with our staff will really highlight to our learners how these industries are evolving, especially with the way technology is being embraced.

Covid-19 has not stopped our agenda to connect industry to education. Advisory boards are meeting virtually, as we all now live in the world of Zoom and Teams! More Industry Advisory Boards are being created as I write this blog and the ideas coming from these conversations will create amazing opportunities for our learners, and see our employer partners benefit from attracting the next generation of talented employees.

The strong connection between our employer partners and college staff has seen over 500 people enrol on our free online distance learning courses since lockdown and we received a further 100 online course enquiries last weekend alone. Learning a skill or committing to achieve a qualification is incredibly empowering, especially at a time of lockdown. We’re collaborating with employers and local schools to manufacture PPE. We’re also seeing employers contact our staff just to ask how they are, a simple gesture but a sign of the relationship we’ve built with employers over many years. Business is about many things, but it’s also about people working together to achieve a common goal.

I spoke at a conference last year in Somerset and I remember saying to a couple of hundred people in the audience that every conversation between an employer and an education provider like Weston College can really create something special, often changing lives along the way. We just need to reach out to each other and have a conversation.

We have a simple mission at Weston College, creating brighter futures, and although we’re having to adapt our approach, Covid-19 will not stop us delivering that mission.

So if you’re reading this blog, perhaps we could have a conversation. I’m sure we can find a way to help each other and who knows, we may even change lives along the way…

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