It’s probably fair to say more parents dream of their children going to Oxford or Cambridge universities than Harrogate College.
But although an Oxford classics degree sounds impressive, a level 2 qualification in hairdressing or carpentry, or a motor vehicle diploma at the more humble Harrogate College could lead to a rewarding and better paid career.
The college, which has over 1,000 students, provides courses for 16 to 18-year-olds and adults in the Harrogate district as well as apprenticeships.
It specialises in vocational and technical training which, like the college itself, is enjoying a bit of a moment.
Many employers regard vocational training as the way to plug skills gaps in careers that are often well paid. As for the college, it has fresh impetus since it was acquired by Luminate Education Group two years ago.
Danny Wild, who became principal on the day Luminate took charge on August 1, 2019, says its £110 million turnover has injected vigour into the college. He adds:
“This was a college that had been unloved for a number of years in terms of its investment in people and resources.
“The most telling thing was the college had lost its connection with the community. There was a lack of understanding about what the college did and its purpose.”
The facilities on Hornbeam Park today are impressive. They include a professional kitchen, hair salon and beauty room and workshops for brick work, motor vehicles and welding.
The college caters for the Harrogate district and many local employers are desperate for staff in these areas.
Twenty-six employers attended last month’s inaugural meeting of the college’s new employers’ network, which gives local firms the chance to discuss their training needs. Their feedback will enable the college to adapt its curriculum accordingly.
The district has many small, niche companies and Mr Wild says the college can provide the flexibility to meet their training needs. He talks about putting on courses for 10 to 12 people in areas where skills gaps exist. Companies could just send a single member of staff.
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He cites digital health care as an example. He says it is one of the fastest growing employment areas in the district but staff sometimes lack the softer skills to match their IT ability so the college could adapt its digital IT courses to include customer training.
Mr Wild says the two sectors that employ most people in the district are hospitality and the visitor economy and care. North Yorkshire, he says, is second only to Cornwall in visitor numbers and “we are so used to care we underestimate its value”.
This close understanding of the local labour market, and its trends, will enable the college and businesses to work fruitfully together, he adds.
The college provides courses for 16 to 18-year-olds and adults as well as apprenticeships.
Mr Wild also describes apprenticeships as a “real growth area in the Harrogate district”. He adds:
“The government has definitely raised the profile of vocational and technical education and is continuing to talk about its importance.
“But if we are going to have a world-leading, highly skilled workforce that requires investment and we continue to lag behind the investment that gets put into school children.”
The college will also start offering new T-levels in health, education and childcare and digital and IT from September next year.
T Levels, which are equivalent to 3 A-levels, are two-year courses introduced last year to meet the needs of industry.
Mr Wild, who lives in Boroughbridge and has a degree in sport and geography, says T-Levels “will become an important part of what the college offers”.
The college also aspires to become a green centre of excellence. It hosted the opening event of this year’s Harrogate District Climate Action Festival and wants to make its site a green centre of excellence.
The college attended the COP26 UN climate change conference in Glasgow and was highly commended at the national Green Gown Awards for its work on sustainability. It is also delivering its first retro fit courses for homes in January.
The college also expects to hear from the Department for Education in the new year whether its application for funding to demolish its main block, which was built in the 1950s as offices, and build a new one on the site of the car park is successful.
Mr Wild, who previously worked at Leeds City College, another Luminate organisation. says the current building is not fit for purpose and the new one would be far more energy-efficient.
Away from work, he enjoys “all things food” and describes himself as an “outdoorsy person” who is often found walking his dogs on the North Yorkshire moors. His background is as a rugby coach.
But his focus now is on championing the college and the kind of education it provides.
“For people who are clear about what career they want to go into or have a strong interest in a particular sector you can follow that passion and study on a vocational or technical course.
“The most important thing for Harrogate College is that the reputation of the college continues to grow so people recognise it as the provider of vocational and technical education in the Harrogate district.”