Opinion

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Why the UK is bottom of the class for innovation

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All in all, an embarrassing turn out for UK businesses. Despite being the innovators of Stem Cell technology, the Internet and the steam engine – today we can’t even break into the top 100 most innovative companies. We can clone a frog but we can’ t come up with a business creative enough to compete on the world stage.

We need to take a step back and look at how UK industry can get it’s mojo back. Britain’s got talent so what are we missing that other nations have got right?

I believe that the answer lies with our young people, who should be leaving college with an applied knowledge of key subjects; science, maths, technology and engineering, known collectively as STEM.

A survey from the CBI and Pearson in June highlighted a severe skills shortage in the STEM subjects – 39 per cent of employers surveyed struggled to recruit young employees with the advanced STEM skills they required. If we can put this right and equip our students with the knowledge to unleash their potential, I see no reason why British business can’t be world leading.

At North Hertfordshire College, we are taking the responsibility to rectify the situation. We are a proud member of the Gazelle Colleges Group, which has set aside £1.2m of dedicated funding to build STEM centres in their colleges across the country, with North Hertfordshire and Barking and Dagenham Colleges blazing the trail.

Building new STEM centres is just one of the ways the Gazelle Colleges Group ensures that young people have the skills they need to enter the work place, and in turn, provide employers with great talent to improve the state of UK business. The Gazelle Colleges Group is a network of 20 further education colleges committed to promoting entrepreneurial teaching and learning in innovative ways.

In a recent leadership conference, Gazelle College principals met with senior staff from Babson College, the business school in Massachusetts, America. Babson College is the global leader in enterprise education, devising new ways to help young people to fulfill their potential and start their own businesses. With these new techniques in our arsenal, Gazelle Colleges are leading the charge in the UK, helping the next generation of young people transform their skills into jobs for themselves and others.

While a crucial area or focus for us, STEM subjects are not all we teach at North Hertfordshire College. We offer a wide variety of A-Levels, BTECs, vocational qualifications and apprenticeships to 16-19 year olds and mature students, all with a focus on how the core skills learned can be made into a successful business.

The college’s academic success have been proven, this summer our A-Level students achieved an 100 per cent pass rate and there was a 19 per cent increase in the A*-B grades achieved. Our other higher education courses for 16-19 year olds have an over all 88 per cent pass rate. Now we are turning our attention to the way the skills we teach can be transferred to the working world, making our students as employable as possible by time they leave us. Our status as a Gazelle College and a Peter Jones Enterprise Academy are some of the ways we are making this happen.

Our new STEM centre does exactly this in a way that is entirely different from anything seen in England before. It’s out with the old tried and tested teaching methods, and in with innovative hands-on techniques. Students will learn through themed activities, including those based on forensic drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, where they will learn the skills and processes behind crime scene analysis, fingerprint testing, and creating e-fits of suspects.

There will also be World War I themed activities at the centre, where students will learn about the medicines available at the time and how they compare to today’s treatments. They will also look at the engineering behind the tunnels and aeroplanes invented during the War and have a go at building some themselves.
 
In this way, an applied knowledge of vital STEM subjects is acquired at North Hertfordshire College because students learn skills in the context of how they are used in the real world, not just the theory. This puts them streets ahead of other young people leaving universities and colleges with purely academic training.

It is my firm belief that further education colleges are sadly underrated as employment resources – UK businesses need to wake up to the fact that the best candidates do not always have to come from university. In order for the economy to recover and become competitive on the world stage, businesses need to wake up to the talent on its doorstep. Forget Oxbridge – UK small businesses must look to further education colleges to recruit the innovators of the future.

Signe Sutherland is Principal of North Hertfordshire College

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