Ken Webb: ''To regenerate the economy, we must invest in the skills of our people''

Ken Webb, Chief Executive and Principal at South Eastern Regional College, says we must invest in the skills of our young people now.

Ken Webb, Chief Executive and Principal at South Eastern Regional College. Kelvin Boyes/ Press Eye

In just over a year, society and our economy has transformed. Our ways of working, communicating, and travelling have changed for the foreseeable future. Countless local businesses have closed, while big high street names and global firms have shut up shop for good.

While the successful roll-out of the vaccination programme is welcome, the task of revitalising our economy to ensure our people have good jobs and career pathways will be momentous.

To regenerate the economy, we must invest in the skills of our people. Further investment in our skills and talent will deliver more and better job opportunities, greater earning potential, better individual wellbeing, and an improved overall economy.

It has been professional and technical skills that have kept our economy afloat over the last year. Manufacturing, Construction, Healthcare, Accounting, Logistics and IT have been the sectors that have ensured many people have had a secure income and job throughout the pandemic. Indeed, there has been growth in many of them.

The FE sector has upskilled individuals in these sectors to keep the economy afloat. The sector has the capacity, capability and scope to do this for society at large to kick-start the economy post pandemic.

It is welcome that our potential has been recognised by the Department for the Economy 10X Skills Strategy that sets out a plan to deliver growth in technical and professional skills through the FE sector.

At South Eastern Regional College, we are passionate about inspiring, transforming and enriching the lives of our students. The skills learned at SERC has helped thousands of students join the workforce to build the economy.

Overall, the Further Education sector has more than 9,000 links with employers across Northern Ireland. At South Eastern Regional College, we have partnerships with a range of global employers, as well as many small and micro businesses.

The relationships we have with these companies allow us to respond quickly to the needs of local businesses in our area to address skills gaps and workforce need. But importantly, it enables students at SERC to gain employment insight and experience before entering the market. A key example of this relationship has been the launch of our new Advanced Tech Awards and Traineeships that have been developed with both industries and learners in mind.

As a collective the Further Education Colleges have launched a new campaign called ‘FE for Me’ that the promotes the role of further education in growing our economy and skills. It is time that we worked together to ensure the people we have here are nurtured and encouraged to pursue pathways that improve their skills and play a collective role in our economic recovery. That will lead to prosperity for all.

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