The region has secured another UK first in preparing young people for the world of work with the launch of Career College North East (CCNE).
The initiative - a partnership between South Tyneside College and the outstanding-rated St Wilfrid’s RC school - will be first in the country to focus on advanced manufacturing, engineering and computer science.
The concept stems from the Government’s new national education policy of allowing Further Education colleges to recruit students from the age of 14, thereby increasing choice, opportunities and prospects.
Those coming on board in September will follow St Wilfrid’s core academic curriculum for four days a week, using the fifth day to undergo skills education at South Tyneside College.
As well as providing a clear route for into higher education, apprenticeships and careers, it is hoped the college - one of four in the UK - will help tackle the region’s skills shortage at a time when the job market is set for a boost through the likes of the proposed International Advanced Manufacturing Park, near Nissan in Sunderland.
The new partnership was celebrated at a launch event yesterday, hosted by Geoff Ford, chairman of Ford Aerospace Ltd.
Among the speakers was Lord Kenneth Baker, a former Conservative Minister and chairman of Edge Foundation, an educational charity supporting the Career Colleges route.
“Career College North East will provide this region with the skilled future workforce it so badly needs,” he said. “Young people here will have access to employer-led, high quality vocational training, alongside rigorous teaching in the core academic subjects.
“The Career College concept is all about educating young people in a hands-on and practical way to ensure they are work-ready with the necessary skills that employers want and need.”
He added that the college had support from key businesses in the area, offering students unique opportunities.
“I very much hope that other colleges and employers will be inspired by innovative model,” he said.
“I’d urge them to consider offering the same opportunities to young people, by joining our expanding network of Career Colleges.”
Over the next five years, it is estimated that up to 8,500 people will retire from the engineering and manufacturing sector, while 23,500 new jobs are created.
Speaking at the launch, chief executive of South Tyneside Council, Martin Swales, said education and employment would go “hand in hand” in the continued economic rise of the area.
Ian Fawdon, chairman of the Advanced Manufacturing Forum, suggested CCNE would give employers access to “genuinely interested young people with a genuine understand of what engineering is.”
The launch concluded with a lunch prepared by Michellin-starred chef Paul Rankin, working with catering students from the college.
Mr Rankin is a representative of Sodexo, which runs the college’s catering services.