Blyth Tall Ships provides spark to narrow skills gap


Employers, training providers and teachers in Blyth have outlined their commitment to working more closely together to prepare today’s school pupils for their future careers.

During a seminar called Bringing Education and Industry Together, held at the Port of Blyth’s new Port Training Centre, they recognised there was a gap between the classroom and workplace but great strides were being made to close it.

In the summer, for example, 350 final year pupils from all of Blyth’s primary schools visited the Port and the Blyth Tall Ship project – another partner in this project – to learn about the town’s nautical history and future.

They took part in challenges which tested their knowledge of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects and discovered the range of jobs the Port and related industries has to offer.

Alison Nicholson, head teacher of Malvin’s Close Primary Academy, said: “The visits were such a success that we were all determined to continue to find ways to raise our children’s aspirations and improve their opportunities and outcomes.” The Port’s vibrancy and facilities provided an ideal location to achieve this.

The seminar – attended by 75 employers, teachers and pupils – was addressed by engineer, businessman, philanthropist and Blyth Spartans chairman Tony Platten. He has used money from the sale of his business Tynetec to help schools and colleges prepare their students for the world of work.

Mr Platten said there was already a critical shortage of engineers in the UK and businesses and schools had to act now. Even the youngest children had to be encouraged to recognise the long-term benefit of embracing Maths “not just to pass an exam”.

He told the audience there was currently a “huge disconnect” between what schools are delivering and what industry and commerce required – and that gap had widened in the past 20 years. “The majority of teachers haven’t set foot in a factory,” he said.

However, the incentive to connect the classroom and workplace was huge: “If the North East has a skilled workforce companies will invest here,” he said.

Colin Bassam, the training manager at the Port subsidiary Port Training Services, said the overwhelming success of the North Sea Tall Ships Regatta coming to Blyth had helped create a wave of optimism in the town and could provide a lasting legacy.

“We showed that we can be leaders,” he said. The shortage of engineers was a UK-wide problem, but a partnership of local employers and Blyth schools could show the way ahead.

Plans are already underway to create a STEM Learning Hub through the Port of Blyth Training Services. It would offer learning activities linked to schools’ curriculum. Practical training using industry standard equipment would also be available.

Local businesses who wish to become involved in bringing together education and industry are asked to contact Elaine O’Connor on 01670 352556 or via elaine.o’

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