When learning becomes so much more than a classroom

Andrew Steel, Assistant Principal, Hartlepool College and Further Education.
Andrew Steel, Assistant Principal, Hartlepool College and Further Education.

AS Hartlepool bids to become a hub for renewable energy, thoughts are turning to training the workforce it will need.

 The town may well clinch thousands of jobs in wind energy, but who will fill them?

 That’s where Hartlepool College of Further Education comes in.  

 It opened in August with superb facilities including areas for the construction, building services and environmental technology sectors.

 Electronics, metallurgy, electro-pneumatics, engineering, wood occupations are some of the skill sectors covered.

 Assistant principal Andy Steel said: “We have had to become more demand-led rather than supply-led.

 “Previously, you would have got a prospectus and it showed what you could do and you made your choice.

 “Now, we have to get out using our business advisors and find out what employers want.”

 In just three years, the college has dealt with 1,000 businesses in an area which stretches miles beyond the Tees Valley and even as far as London.

 “In a recession,” said Mr Steel, “training is one of the budget threats for many companies and we have to work even harder with employers to justify the need to invest.

 “The college’s key four areas are known as STEM – science, technology, engineering, maths – and the facilities for each are second to none.” It puts the college at the heart of Hartlepool’s plans for a future in wind energy.

 “We have invested a large amount in bridging the skills gap of the future,” said Mr Steel.

 “One of the key features in our strategy is to lead in renewable energy. We work closely with PD Ports and we have got our fingers crossed like the rest of Hartlepool.

 “We are very much an outward-facing college. In a time of recession, we can either curl up and try to avoid the difficulties and hope we get through it, but we have decided to grow out of recession and grow as a college.”

 Mr Steel welcomed Hartlepool’s bid to grow as a centre of excellence for wind farm development and said the town was already putting the facilities in place to attract investors – and the college was part of that.

 “The fact that we have the Enterprise Zone is something that can attract business in. We can meet with them and suit their needs.

 “We are asking employers what they feel is missing. The college is also aiming to become more than just a college.  

 “We have four conference centres now and we see the building as a municipal building for the town and for industry to access and use.

 “We are getting two or three conferences a week, some of them regional and national, and we are bringing in people from outside the town. It is the first time that many of these people have come to Hartlepool and they are saying that the facilities are second to none.

 “It is at that point that we can sell the benefits of the college and the town.”