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Hunting for treasure: How can universities and employers work together to regenerate an area?

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This week we've been looking at the ways in which universities and employers are working together to develop high level skills, following the launch our new report with Universities UK. Forging Futures: Building high level skills through university and employer collaboration, highlights the many and varying ways in which business are joining forces with universities to create new ways to develop such skills. Today, Janet Smith-Harrison, programme manager at Bradford University, explains building close links with employers helped develop local areas.

Successful regeneration should do several things. It should improve the environment of a local community. It should revitalise industry to create jobs, and then train people to succeed in those jobs. And it should improve the cultural and social life of a community. To achieve this, a community must join up, and bring together all the local intelligence, experience and resources.

So how do we hunt down all the treasure within a community to ensure maximum value? What will make the biggest difference? Who should lead?

Employers in the lead

The 2006 Leitch Review of Skills argued that a demand-led approach to skills was pivotal to economic growth and prosperity. Creating a system with better integration of employment and skills, and strong employer engagement and investment, was essential in a global market. An employer-led approach to skills and qualifications within a particular locality therefore represents a high value regeneration tool.Identifying local growth needs, both industrial and educational, is key to successful collaboration and, therefore, successful regeneration.

Bradford’s assets

Bradford has many assets to harness. It is a large authority with a diverse mix of educational provision, and one of the city’s main assets is its people. Over the last decade the working age population in Bradford has increased by 10%, a faster rate than the regional and national average, and is set to increase by 2,000 people a year over the next ten years. Local economic growth is essential to meet the employment needs of the population. For local businesses this represents a rich pool of potential talent, and is a strong motivation for employers to collaborate closely with schools, colleges and the University.

The Industrial Centres of Excellence (ICE) in Bradford

The Industrial Centres of Excellence (ICE) model being pioneered in Bradford is an innovative, employer-led approach to education - enabling young people to gain qualifications, skills and experience planned around the requirements of local businesses.

The curriculum of each ICE has been developed jointly by local businesses, schools, colleges and the University and offers a high quality learning experience for students aged 14-19, with clear pathways into work, training and further and higher education.

The ICE model covers sectors identified as local growth areas, ensuring all partners within the city are working towards the same goals of business growth, employment, qualifications and skills. The approach is one of treasure hunting, plundering the rich seam of assets available within the district for the district, ensuring every last ounce of value is recognised and used.

The ICE model looks to prepare young people for work by strongly emphasising the work culture of each priority sector. The offer includes enhanced work placements, business mentoring, visits to local employers and career development to ensure pupils are aware of and aiming towards employment within that particular career pathway. At the same time young people are inspired to aim for real jobs with local, visible businesses, and employers can spot talent as they work in collaboration with schools and the University. Each Centre of Excellence is led by a board of sector experts from local businesses, ensuring the curriculum is focussed on business needs, and keeps pace with new technology and ways of working.

Collaboration therefore opens up ways to widen participation, support local growth and raise attainment in partnership across the district. The strength of an area-based approach to skills and qualifications lies in its simplicity: business growth depends on innovation - skilled and talented employees innovate. Bringing business and education together through ICE is making a real difference in Bradford – and more towns and cities should be hunting down their treasure and valuing it.

For more on Forging Futures, follow #ForgingFutures on Twitter. Or click here to view the report in full.

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