New project to increase skills

Norfolk's low-skill economy could soon be transformed by a new project that sees the county's colleges joining together to kickstart training prospects for workers.

Norfolk's low-skill economy could soon be transformed by a new project that sees the county's colleges joining together to kickstart training prospects for workers.

Five further education colleges have formed a company that will be the point of contact for any business looking to boost its employees' skills.

Colleges for Business Norfolk aims to offer a new deal on training courses to companies - and at a launch event yesterday at City College, Norwich, managing director Sharif Sharif outlined how it would be able to tailor training to individual needs, using the best resources from each member college.

Company bosses already working with Colleges for Business (CfB) said the initiative was saving time and effort and opening up possibilities for receiving government grants.

Mr Sharif said it followed from a national Train to Gain project that promotes upskilling - helping businesses improve productivity and competitiveness by ensuring staff have the right skills to do the job.

“Norfolk as a sub-region has issues with levels of literacy and numeracy and the percentage of the adult population with qualifications,” he said.

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“This company is going to highlight the need for businesses to look after their staff, think about what training opportunities might be relevant to them and think about how accreditation could benefit both their business and the staff that work for them.

“We're trying to understand busi-nesses and shape our service around what each requires, utilising the various areas of vocational excell-ence our member colleges have.”

West Anglia College in Lynn, Great Yarmouth College, City and Easton colleges in Norwich and Paston College in North Walsham have all signed up to the company.

Areas of training that CfB can now open the doors to include accounting and finance, computing and net-working, hospitality, manufacturing, retail, sport and leisure, teacher training, health and care and land management.

It means companies in rural areas in Norfolk are no longer limited to the training their local college offers.

More than 200 businesses have approached CfB since March, when the company began operating.

One early company to sign up was Norfolk County Services, the county council offshoot which employs 4,500 cleaners, cooks, gardeners and many other low-skilled workers in 1,100 locations across the region.

Learning and development manager Hilary Hale said: “We tend to have small teams working in lots of locations, many working part-time or unsociable hours, so getting a training programme has been very difficult.

“We want to upskill our workforce and get them to national standards, and are finding working with this new company very useful.

“Staff are able to be trained in their workplace, which takes away the fear factor of going 'back to school'.

“Going in at a central point, I was able to find out which college was best placed to deliver each comp-onent of the training, and just having to talk to one person has saved me an enormous amount of time.”

Dick Palmer, principal of City College, Norwich, said: “There was a genuine desire among the colleges to become the sum greater than the parts. This is a really big opportunity to pull together and create one point of contact for Norfolk businesses.”

Mr Palmer said the project followed on from a similar scheme his college runs in conjunction with Hethel-based Lotus Cars, which sees 350 of its staff receiving training to NVQ standard in business skills.

John Vigar, a manager at Lotus, said: “This has been a fantastic opportunity for Lotus...

“The workers here at Hethel are very willing to do things differently. They have shown a real enthusiasm for the training and an appreciation of the chance for enhancing their personal development and to embrace the continuous improvement philosophy.”

For details, visit www.collegesfor businessnorfolk.co.uk

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