Multi-million-pound dynamic business positioned at the heart of county’s future

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 06 July 2020 9:26

Multi-million-pound dynamic business positioned at the heart of county’s future

Investment, transformation, multi-million-pound building projects, business partnerships, and coming clean about its relationship with that most secret of institutions - a certain organisation has been a tad busy of late. 

When we say “of late” we are looking back over a decade of immense change which might have kicked off under his predecessor, but has been orchestrated by the current boss of Gloucestershire College. 

It started with the first new building at Gloucester Docks in decades, the college’s city campus, home to everything from IT to construction courses, encompassed a new Cheltenham campus and last year a stunning Forest of Dean new-build in Cinderford.

Matthew Burgess and his team have also had their handsrather full of late too, with the pandemicsending the revolution into overdrive as staff and students were plunged into an online world en mass.

Course work still had to be evaluated and courses finished – not so easy when you are responsible for qualify the likes of electricians who competency is crucial. 

In the midst of all this the college also announced a partnership with CyNam, the fast-growing influential cyber-centred business catalyst in Cheltenham with a hot line in to a certain GCHQ. 

Unless you had your head off-line for the last few months you will have seen the plans for a £400 million cyber business park beside the Golden Valley’s famous donut-shaped building, heard about the college’s forward-thinking partnership with approved cyber university UWE, and be aware of its new courses. 

If that is you, now you know, along with everyone else, that also includes incredible new Cyber Degree Apprenticeships. 

(Yes, it also has courses accredited by the University ofGloucestershire as well). 

Its dynamism is starkly at odds with a cynic’s view of a public sector labouring under a patina of complacency.

“We are not guaranteed to be here in the future unless we do the right things,” said Mr Burgess, principal and chief executive, probably wondering why he needs to spell out a view shared with most in the private sector. 

“It is necessary to re-invent ourselves and just recently we have had to accelerate our programme.” 

Which is shorthand for ‘pedal like crazy’ to make sure the college went entirely on-line, supporting students and staff, keep teaching, get ready to open, take on board wins it can take forward, and completely adapt its apprenticeship programmes over the next few months. 

Wannabe apprentices unable to find employers to take them on can still start at the college, which promises to help link them up with businesses going forward, and start-dates are flexible to allow businesses time to re-emerge post pandemic and invest in training. 

And that is just part of it. 

“It has been difficult,” he admits, not pausing to dwell on ‘how difficult’, but stressing an incredible, exceptional job even, done by staff and students to make it all possible. 

That is 800 staff, 3,500 students and 1200 apprentices. 

Andy Bates, the chief financial officer, is also clear – the college does not have some ‘shield of invincibility’ because it is public sector. 

“Some of our income is protected, but we have taken a financial hit,” said Mr Bates. He did say how much, but we are not allowed to tell you. 

One bit we could divulge is its lucrative summer season – 1,500 students from 15 different countries aged between 12 and 18 who arrive for four weeks in July every year. Or rather, won’tbe this year. That’sin the region of half a million pounds alone – gone.

And staff have been furloughed, and he does not say that lightly either. 

Relationships he has been at the forefront of forging with business are helping the college understand what companies want and need – and that brings with it a need for results. 

At the start of June the college also staged a first in open days – readying itself for next year. 

“We welcomed over 350 families to meet our highly experienced teaching staff, student mentors, and learning support workers. 

“Students, apprentices and their parents and guardians participated in live online events – with a choice of some 25 different subjects, to hear about GC’s course options, fantastic campus facilities, student case studies, work experience and industry field trips,” said Alison Townsend, head of marketing at the college. 

“Like the rest of the world we are quickly adapting to current social distancing restrictions, and whilst we look forward to welcoming our new students on campus from September, this was an excellent opportunity for students to meet our teaching staff virtually and either ask questions directly or via the online live chat.” 

The event involved 170 staff and resulted in a spike in applications. 

The college also opened before the end of June to some students and apprentices who needed to complete assessments, and is well into planning for its next busy period - enrolment in August. 

This year that will be predominantly online, before it plans to welcome all our students and apprentices back onto campus in September – with social distancing abidance of course. 

Just days after we speak Mr Bates and the college are helping front a giant online conference staged by the aforementioned CyNam, which the college announced sponsorship of earlier this month. Hundreds attended the on-line love-in – another sign of the county become the capital of UK cyber and the college there at its centre. 

And other moves are afoot too. 

“We are moving towards more professional partnerships with business. We have Bamboo technology and Global ATS the air traffic control firm moving onto the Cheltenham campus,” said Mr Bates. 

It is all about bringing students and business closer together to make the leap between learning, training and work and skilled staff as narrow as possible. 

“It is about keeping those talented students in Gloucestershire. We have amazing young people here in the county and we want them to stay.” 

A second round of online open events is planned for the week commencing July 13 covering all subjects and apprenticeships, where visitors can meet the teaching teams and ask any questions.