There was one sentence which really leapt out of me from the Prime Minister's speech to conference last week. She pledged, "A first-class technical education system for the first time in the history of Britain."
In the past few years there's been a lot said about skills by governments of all persuasions. The common thread has been an undeniable need for recognition by politicians, public and business that skills shortages don't just go away on their own; that concerted effort will be needed to keep our public services running to an exemplary standard and to give industry the young people it needs to drive the economy forward. Further Education colleges have to be at the forefront of any such drive. We're ready and determined to make it happen.
The first piece of good news for skills shared at the Conference came from Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and his announcement of 5000 new nurse training places. Demand for Access to Health courses at Milton Keynes has remained strong in spite of the news that the NHS Bursaries system was being scrapped. This is a really good route into the profession, especially for adults retraining before taking a degree, and we hope very much some of those five thousand places will be filled by people who've chosen the Access route.
The Prime Minister, between coughing, the appearance of a fake P45 and falling letters, referenced the "broken housing market." Her plans for a big boost in house building are likely to be welcomed by anybody who knows a young or not-so-young person with little prospect of ever being able to buy their own home. At the College we've already seen an increase in demand for construction courses and if these plans become official policy that trend is bound to continue. The challenge is that when demand for skilled trades people is high, those same individuals can earn significantly more in the industry than they can in the classroom. And of course, not everyone with brilliant technical skills makes a brilliant teacher. With that in mind, we in FE need to work with the construction companies even more effectively than we already do to come up with new and imaginative ways to make that training available. We need the employers' support but then they need the workforce to employ, so close cooperation and imagination about delivery will be essential - something by which staff and students alike at the College are very excited.