FURTHER education is critical to Scotland’s social and economic future. Businesses need access to high-quality employees if they are to prosper, and the country’s college network is a primary source of training in the necessary skills. 

Educators and company leaders need to work closely together and this mutually beneficial dependence is nurtured by initiatives such as the Scottish Government’s Flexible Workforce Development Fund.

City of Glasgow College is one of the primary institutions delivering training under this initiative. Its teaching has changed dramatically in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, with more than 500 courses delivered remoted to over 4,000 delegates since April.

Government ministers reacted quickly to the virus – overall the fund increased from £10 million to £20m for 2020/21. The college also had to adapt quickly to a new and very different learning environment.

“We’re delighted that we have been able to continue to support business through this pandemic,” says Carla Gethin, City of Glasgow College’s Director, Business and International Partnerships. 

“This fund recognises that the college sector is crucial and it means we can play our full part in the education and skills recovery after Covid. 

“We’ve always had great flexibility with our employers. Of course we were facing a challenge, but our college already had provision to meet their skills needs.

“We had to get that provision ready for delivery on an online platform, but we were able to respond swiftly.”

While the college’s ethos of working closely with employers and delivering on their needs is well embedded, staff still faced significant challenges in adapting to the issues resulting from Covid-19.

“Until this virus came along 99 per cent of our course delivery happened on a face-to-face basis,” explains Douglas Thomson, the college’s Flexible Workforce Development Fund Manager.

“Most of it was done directly in a room, so we had to switch away from that. The core subjects may not have changed, but the emphasis has shifted. We’ve all become much more familiar with online conferencing than we were before.”
How did they make the rapid change in course delivery the pandemic necessitated?

“Basically, we cancelled everything from mid-March through April and used those six weeks to look at what we were going to do.

“We realised we were going to have to move online and our lecturers formed a team to optimise our model for this new type of learning, and we continue to refine our model. It’s been a challenge, but our people have been fantastic.”

One advantage of the fund, Thomson says, is that it has allowed employers to move beyond the courses which they are legally required to offer their staff into other areas of training that are important, but often don’t get pursued. “It has allowed them to go to longstanding areas of training need and address issues such as productivity. That’s a very positive change.”

Now into its fourth year, the fund has been opened up to SME employers for the first time. Allowing companies based in Scotland with 250 or fewer employees to access up to £5,000 to cover training, it’s designed to allow SMEs address skills gaps in their workforce. 

“This can help small and medium businesses become more productive, as well as develop and enhance business flexibility, improve staff wellbeing and resilience,” explained Thomson. “It can help them get through and recover from Covid-related disruptions.”

The college can help every step of the way. From general advice to helping put together a skills gap analysis and customised training plan, SME employers will get the assistance they need to help them access the fund and create a programme of bespoke training designed to help them upskill their workforce.

The sheer scale of the college – it is one of the largest in Europe, designed to accommodate up to 40,000 students – means it is able to offer an extensive range of courses alongside a huge amount of invaluable guidance and expertise.

The programmes on offer to businesses include a broad range in the area of interpersonal management skills. Examples include development training for staff promoted to supervisor or manager level.

“We also do quite a lot of culture change coaching and mentoring for organisations, as well as communications training,” says Thomson.

“Then there’s office, health and safety and technical skills as well as specialist learning in things like accident investigation training. No two courses are the same. “We work with business, the creative industries, local authorities and the third sector. They all have different motivations and needs and the training reflects that – we work with them all to find exactly what they want to get out of it.

“We’re also adding new courses such as accountability and responsibility, and train the virtual trainer. And an area we are also working on is expanding our trainer pool for mental health first aid training, which is a big focus for clients just now.”

One distinct advantage City of Glasgow College enjoyed in moving to online learning is that it already had experience in delivering courses remotely through its highly successful international programme.

Its global learning portfolio currently includes providing learning in hospital and elderly care in Malaysia; English in Indonesia; hospitality, digital design and professional cookery in India; mechanical and electrical engineering in Vietnam; and bakery in Malta. “We have some 110 partnerships around the world with 30 different countries,” says Carla.

“That brings back a lot of value to Glasgow and to Scotland. Reskilling and upskilling is going to be required the world over – that’s particularly true because of Covid. We’ve engaged with governments around the world. 

“We’re leading the way both in Glasgow and globally. It is an exceptionally competitive field, but we’re involved in a lot of different projects ranging from maritime to dementia care.”

Thomson believes that a benefit of the forced disruption this past year is that it has deepened links between the college and business. “I think that will continue and expand. No-one saw Covid coming, but we have responded well and I think there are positives to take from that.”



This article appears as part of The Herald's The Future Of Education campaign, in association with City of Glasgow College.

If you would like to become a partner in our Future of Education Series, contact Stephen McDevitt, Head of Digital and Branded Content campaign@heraldandtimes.co.uk