North East Connected

Industry Partnership Key to Northumberland College’s Apprenticeship Success

Recent apprenticeship reforms have seen Northumberland College and other providers being propelled to the forefront of the region’s skills development market as experts in delivering new, industry-focused, Standards programmes rather than traditional, Framework-based apprenticeships.

The UK-wide, Government-led changes are resulting in Apprenticeship Frameworks gradually being replaced by new Apprenticeship Standards in order to improve the quality of apprenticeships nationally. These have been developed by focus groups led by employers known as Trailblazers.

Working in close partnership with local organisations, Northumberland College is one of the North East’s leading providers with over 1,000 individuals currently undertaking apprenticeships. Due to its close working relationship with over 500 companies, from SMEs to global manufacturers, and providing a dedicated business support team with specific knowledge of localised business needs, the College has seen high demand for its apprenticeship provision in recent years.

Gemma Wilson, Business Delivery Manager at Northumberland College commented, “The Government has set a target to replace all Apprenticeship Frameworks, which may seem to be qualification-focused, to Apprenticeship Standards by 2020. These new reforms have made apprenticeships much more job-focused, and through end point assessments, seek to ensure that individuals have all of the required skills and knowledge to carry out their work by the end of their apprenticeship.

“The new Standards have been written and developed specifically by employers and learning takes place throughout the apprenticeship with assessment at the end. Apprentices need to prove that they can carry out all aspects of the job and that they have developed the necessary workplace behaviours in order to succeed in the end point assessment.

“These national reforms provide the opportunity to raise the quality of apprenticeships generally and through our excellent relationships with local companies, we have been able to go that one step further and deliver apprenticeships that are truly fit-for-purpose, take care of our students’ well-being, advance their career prospects and produce great results on a commercial level too.

“In addition, the College’s business development team can offer bespoke and highly customised programmes to suit unique business needs and this is especially relevant for our many rural economy and niche sector clients.”

One company that has benefited greatly from Northumberland College’s apprenticeship learning provision is luxury upholstered furniture manufacturer, George Smith. The Cramlington-based company, whose furniture is in high demand amongst high worth clients, luxury hospitality venues and global celebrities, currently employs seven apprentices amongst its 95-strong workforce, and each have reaped huge benefits from standards-based learning.

Northumberland College has also gone one step further to support George Smith by enabling one of its distinguished and highly talented upholsterers to be a technical tutor on the apprenticeship programme in order to deliver a highly structured and robust, commercially-driven course.

Jim Athey, Operations Director at George Smith explained, “The nature of our products demand the very highest levels of skill and craftmanship, and individuals of this calibre simply cannot be hired in a traditional recruitment sense. Therefore, the training and development of apprentices is absolutely critical to our success and more importantly, the continued growth of our business.

“We have established a very strong working partnership with Northumberland College and they have supported us greatly in terms of creating, developing and delivering a tailored upholstery apprenticeship programme that meets our exact business requirements. The relationship is essential in supporting our apprentices’ success as we have been able to teach the correct knowledge, craft and theory on the shop floor and also on campus.”

Layla Welsh, Assessor at Northumberland College added, “Our students work together at George Smith’s manufacturing facility for four days as well as at the College’s Kirkley Hall campus each week. The programme is delivered by myself and Jim and we each deliver learning to the apprentices from each others’ facilities to ensure the apprentices receive full support and continuity. The partnership works exceedingly well and with regular management meetings, we can allow for greater flexibility in line with company developments so that the students get the most out of their qualification.”

Northumberland College offers one of the largest range of apprenticeships in the North East with over 50 subjects ranging from engineering and construction to animal care and horticulture. Apprenticeships are available from level 2 and offer progression opportunities into employment or higher education qualifications. The business support team can also provide funding advice and recruitment expertise. For details please contact

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