What is a UTC?
University technical colleges (UTCs) are state-funded technical schools for 14-19 year olds set up by universities and businesses. There are almost 50 UTCs open around the country, with the closest colleges to South Durham being in Leeds and Scarborough.
UTC South Durham is a partnership between the University of Sunderland, Hitachi Rail Europe and Gestamp Tallent. It looks to give young people the combination of academic qualifications and practical experience in the advanced engineering and manufacturing sectors. A large part of preparing UTC South Durham has been about trying identify industry needs. I have talked to businesses who say they’re desperate for staff but can’t find people with the right skills. They want to recruit apprentices but they aren’t seeing young people as work-ready. At UTC South Durham, we look to address this.
How do you make your students more work-ready?
We have identified the skills needed to succeed in business and these form the bedrock of everything that we do. We also introduce business language to students, we have a long working day – 8.30am-4.45pm – and all students call staff by their first names to try to give them a more grown-up environment that mirrors the world of work.
In addition, the college has a range of industry standard engineering and advanced equipment and software that students can use. We also offer regular work visits and placements to allow students to experience real working environments.
What types of businesses are you already working with?
At the moment we have around 35 employee partners, which range from big name companies to SMEs. Many are from the Aycliffe Business Park, where we are based, but we work with businesses across Teesside and Tyneside. We have architects, construction, software development and marketing companies and our aim is to work across the board in terms of engineering and manufacturing so that our students can experience all aspects of industry.
What qualifications do students take?
Students join us at 14 or 16 years of age and study GCSEs or A Levels, within a very focused curriculum. At GCSE level, students study English, maths, science and engineering as well as a choice of additional subjects such as geography, product design, computer science and business. For A Level, we offer maths, engineering, physics, chemistry, computer science, IT and business. But it is important to stress that the UTC is all about combining the academic study with the practical skills.
What are the benefits of studying at a UTC and what are the benefits for its partner companies?
Students will gradually work out the roles and businesses that they want to be involved in when they start work. This will give them the confidence to apply for jobs and sell themselves, as they will know they will enjoy the role they are applying for. For our partner companies, they will be able to shape our students with the skills that they need. This will also give them confidence in taking on our students as apprentices or in other roles.
UTC South Durham says it helps students to innovate and invent. How will do that and why is it important?
It is important to us because we recognise that bright new industry ideas are how UK businesses can stay at the forefront of so many technologies. Engineering is essentially problem solving and young people tend to approach problems with a fairly fresh perspective. We will nurture ideas through our combination of academic studying and practical projects set by us and our partners.
Of course, the college also gathers bright and interested young people together and asks them to think about the same things. This will help form a create environment for ideas to grow.
What about the impact on the wider region?
It could take a bit of time to see that real impact but fundamentally, if businesses can find bright young people who are already reasonably well skilled, they will be in a better position to take opportunities in their markets. The North East is a fantastic place to be and we often do ourselves down. If the college’s output is motivated, focused, young people ready for the workplace, then that’s only going to benefit the region, both economically and culturally.
Who is UTC South Durham suited to and what are the future expectations for students?
Students should have a genuine interest in science, technology, engineering and manufacturing subjects. They also need to recognise that UTC South Durham is not an easy option for them. It’s a longer day and further to travel and so will suit someone who is enthusiastic and motivated. This, in turn, will make a very positive environment at the college.
What can students expect from attending UTC South Durham?
We like to think that our students will be better prepared for work and have a fast track to the best advanced engineering and manufacturing jobs. We’ve only just welcomed our first students but I estimate that about a third of our students are keen to go to university, a third have no intention and are looking for apprenticeships as their next step, and a third are currently undecided.
What are your aspirations for UTC South Durham this year?
We have 150 students who have just joined us in September (90 in year 10 and 60 in year 12). The building is designed for 600 and I expect recruitment to increase from now on. This year I really want to establish UTC South Durham as a fantastic place to be. If we can get our students talking really positively about us, then recruitment for future years will look after itself. I will also be working with my business engagement manager in order to get more businesses involved and show them the benefits if they do.