Report Segment: Easton College
Easton College is at the heart of the rural economy providing courses for young people who go on to employment in a range of sectors or into higher education for further study. But there are also many part time courses for those already in work; for example there were around 1500 self funded places during the 2009/10 academic year.
The Easton College long term vision is to achieve “outstanding academic performance across the institution,…. strong on the quality of the student experience”, and at the same time ensuring, “a close and effective relationship with employers.”
David Lawrence, Principal of Easton College is under no illusions about the challenge ahead: “ It’s got to be a joint effort whereby employers get the choice of staff they need but at the same time they’ve got to get involved in training too. Employer engagement starts with a good reciprocal relationship and that means a commitment and an investment in time from the college, its students and employers.”
To this end David Lawrence has helped set up the Centre for Contemporary Agriculture, which aims to bridge the gap between employers needs, student aspirations and further and higher education provision. The Centre is in its infancy but has the endorsement of UEA, Easton College, the Institute of Food Research, the John Innes Centre, the Sainsbury Laboratory, and the National Institute for Agricultural Botany & the Arable Group (NIABTAG).
David Lawrence has spent many years balancing the needs of employers with the aspirations of students. Whilst the two aims have not always been mutually compatible, Easton College does provide an environment which is conducive to academic and vocational learning, as well as offering employers a working environment conducive to management and workforce development.
The college is keen to experiment with different models. A recent lean learning initiative will see teaching undertaken in two terms of the year so that students can be with employers for the final term. This is an ideal way of running a genuine apprenticeship programme so that employers get the labour they need at the right time (Spring/Summer), and students get the college environment they need to gain the qualifications they want.
David Lawrence is constantly looking for solutions to employer needs. The college recently sat down with a group of companies to discuss higher level training needs and as a result has introduced a new BTEC level 3 award and started an ILM (Institute of Leadership & Management) award for aspiring managers.
A continual challenge for the farming industry is the availability of multiskilled agricultural engineers. Engineers are in short supply across several sectors and farming is often the sector of last resort for qualified engineers from a different industry background. This suggests that there is a case for running courses specifically for multi-skilling engineers for the agricultural sector. If this could be combined with the needs of the food and drink sector (see e.g. Copella above ), it may be possible to achieve viable numbers for course delivery.
With funded courses turning over some £9million and fee income accounting for an additional £1.2million Easton College is clearly a vital part of the rural economy skills equation.
But as David Lawrence concludes, “it is easy to come up with course ideas that employers like the sound of, but much more difficult to create a delivery model which is sustainable in terms of guaranteed volumes of learners.”