Brand new Centre for Green Technology from IEG

Brand new Centre for Green Technology from IEG

Inspire Education Group (IEG) continues to go from strength to strength with a continuing programme of new courses and investments. The organisation’s latest endeavour – a brand new Centre For Green Technology – aims to skill and re-skill a new generation of learners in green tech and engineering. We spoke with IEG’s Ed Thomas, Chief Operating Officer, and Rachel Nicholls, CEO, to find out more...

First of all, what prompted the decision to create this new centre?
Ed Thomas: We chose to focus on green technology because local industries are in need of those decarbonisation skills – it’s a new and emerging industry, and the local region currently lacks these skills in its workforce. The building itself will have electric vehicle and home workshop capabilities, for example, as well as green engineering and modern construction methods. There will be areas dedicated to working on heat pumps and other related technologies – in essence, this centre will provide the skills that local industries require to comply with new green regulations coming on line.

Brand new Centre for Green Technology from IEGIt also presents opportunities for young people in the region – Peterborough has seen exponential growth in the 16-to-19 demographic – and they’ll have the chance to gain the necessary skills to enter the workforce, accessing new and emerging industries, which are only predicted to grow.

So, what courses will be available to students?
ET: Our core offer is for students aged 16 to 19, but we also offer adult training and apprenticeships. We’ll offer a mix of our traditional full- time courses – including motor vehicles, which will now include a focus on electric vehicles due to its growth in the industry. We will also offer training on solar batteries, solar panels and heat pumps (while we used to offer extensive gas training, the industry is now shifting towards heat pumps). As a result, the Green Centre does not have gas, and we have designated areas where gas is not used (specialist contractors have been brought in for this purpose). By providing training in niche skills like this, we offer people the opportunity to learn and work in these industries. In the long term, we’ll also offer shorter courses for adults. Recently, we secured funding for shorter HTQ (Higher Technical Qualifications) skills courses, and of course expanding adult training allows more people to access skills, strengthening the region as a whole. It sets individuals apart from the competition and aligns with industry needs, whilst driving the region towards net zero emissions. It’s important to note that no college within a 50-mile radius of Peterborough offers anything similar to our centre and curriculum at this scale, giving individuals a unique advantage in advancing their careers. Many people’s skills will become obsolete over the coming years, but these training programmes allow for continued access as workplaces adapt – and to new and emerging industries.

Presumably, people will still be able to study core crafts and technologies, such as mechanics and plumbing, while incorporating them into a broader curriculum?
ET: We’ll continue to offer motor vehicle HGV courses and traditional construction provision and this additional offer will add value and provide a broader skill set for employers. As you mentioned, the core skills of building will still need to be learned in Level One or Two courses, but then students can move into other courses offered by the Centre for Green Technology – we won’t discontinue the courses we currently offer. Regardless of the shift towards green technology, buildings will still be needed, and not everything will be based on modern methods of construction, so we have no intention of discontinuing those courses because they are highly popular and still needed. Many of our construction and plumbing areas were oversubscribed so it would be a mistake for us to stop offering them. Our goal is to add value and provide opportunities for young people, and we offer a diverse range of training options that are useful both now and in the future – instead of replacing or adding to the curriculum, we aim to evolve our provision to respond to industry needs.

Rachel Nicholls Part of the appeal of IEG becoming a one-stop-shop is that it provides core learning, upskilling, and courses that may not be available elsewhere.
Rachel Nicholls: Strategically, our group’s size enables us to have a much broader reach. We have 10,000 students in Peterborough and Stamford and offer hundreds of courses in various subjects. We are the largest post-16 education provider in the region, serving Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. This means we can offer breadth of provision at scale.

From an employer’s perspective, we have a responsibility as a group to bridge the gap between education and industry demands. Our aim is for our students to leave with the skills required for the industry they are about to enter, rather than realising three years later that they need further development.

Green technology will continue to evolve, so how will your offerings reflect that, given that innovations from just five years ago are already outdated.
ET: We continuously evolve our offerings and establish relationships in response to and with local industry. We provide apprenticeships, too, aiming to establish and build on the long-term relationships these provide. What’s relevant now may not be relevant in three years, so it is essential to stay current and meet the needs of students and employers across all our courses.

A key factor in achieving this is the establishment of employer boards. These enable us to gather up-to-date information from employers about their current and future needs, allowing us to adapt and innovate – companies currently involved include McCain UK, Longhurst Group, Baker Perkins, Anglian Water and Codem Composites. We believe we shouldn’t cling to established practices simply because they are traditional – it’s crucial that we provide employers with the skilled workforce they require. The employer boards have been fantastic, covering various industries and curriculum areas, and they have played a critical role in helping us understand employer needs and plan for the future.

EngineeringGiven the city’s rich history in industrial innovation, it is fitting that the centre will be located in Peterborough. It feels like things have come full circle.
ET: Absolutely, and with that in mind I want to mention that the journey has already begun for many of our students because we currently have a construction project on site. This allows us to actively use the construction of the building for educational purposes by hosting talks,
conducting site tours – even running an art competition. The main contractor has also hired many local individuals, which benefits the community. We’re taking full advantage of the learning opportunities that the construction period presents, which is exceptional considering that it is rare to have a £14 million construction project right next to where you are studying!

The construction in itself must be a valuable lesson, mustn’t it? It provides a great learning opportunity
ET: One of our existing buildings on campus has a fire escape from which the entire building site and construction project can be seen, so the course leaders take people up there so they can get a full view of the site, to explain and demonstrate its functionality. They receive support from the contractor, Cleggs Construction who provides talks during the day, as well as site tours. Although funding is not the main focus, the outputs we’re hoping to achieve add significant value and contribute to the social aspect. We are maximizing the learning opportunity throughout the entire process, rather than waiting for the building to open before starting courses.

What benefits will the building offer to staff and students?
ET: A three-story, 2400 square metre block will be constructed with a concrete plank frame and concrete walls, which we chose due to the high thermal density offered – that is, less heating, which supports our goal of achieving net-zero emissions. The building will also be equipped with solar panels and features a modern exterior.

The block is located between our sports centre and construction blocks, completing the overall facade. The interior will consist of various features, including a double-height electric vehicle workshop, a modern engineering workshop, an engineering lab, seven classrooms, a staff room, a common room, and breakout spaces. Notably, the building will feature state-of-the- art immersive technology, including a VR Virtalis Wall, which can simulate work placements for students and offers cutting-edge learning opportunities. We already use this technology on another part of our site, but its inclusion in this project adds further value.

Centre for Green TechnologySecuring funding for the Centre For Green Technology has been complex, and we’ve successfully obtained multiple funding streams from various sources. Inspire Education Group has committed significant capital funds to support this project, highlighting how important it is to us. The project has been partly funded by Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority, providing £2.471 million via the Transforming Cities Fund and £400,000 from
the Local Growth Fund, further to the £1.9 million package from Peterborough City Council via the Towns Fund. Central government has also approved £1.42m of funding via the Local Skills Improvement Funding (LSIF) for Inspire Education Group, and for the Centre For Green Technology this includes introducing skills training aligned with the decarbonisation, retrofit and Green Skills Agenda.

The building will also include equipment for the electric vehicle labs and traditional gas-based systems for training. We’re also exploring sponsorship opportunities with industry partners to further enhance the technology within the building. Overall, this project is unique – and I’ve never worked on anything quite like it before. Construction is progressing well, and we’re currently on budget and schedule. Although we started slightly later than initially planned, we broke ground in October and are confident that we will complete the project by the end of November this year.

So when will you begin accepting student applications?
RN: We’ll start accepting applications for September this year, and we’ll transfer everyone once the building is finished in November. We continue to grow our student numbers and
saw a record number of students joining us in September 2023 and we expect the same challenge in 2024. It’s a good challenge to have, because it stems from our substantial rise in achievement rates and our outstanding reputation, as demonstrated by our positive Ofsted report.

ET: Rachel and the education team have done an impressive job, which is why the college is currently experiencing high levels of applications and enrolment. We’ll definitely make certain that everyone is accommodated, making sure that no one is excluded.

Anglian Water on their education relationship with IEG
“We attend the Employer Engagement Board to help support the Colleges in what we need as employers. We are looking forward to supporting the construction and engineering T levels in the near future, and can already see how they can fit within our early careers workforce plans in the future”.

Codem Composites on their education relationship with IEG
“CODEM Composites’ collaboration with IEG is an excellent strategic partnership. We understand that providing opportunities for growth and development to students and the wider composite community is vital for the continued success and expansion of our company and the industry. We have found that T Levels aid us in finding solutions for entry-level skill shortages whilst developing future talent.

While we strive to cultivate and grow the next generation of engineers, students are a key part of this initiative therefore we are committed to helping young people as they take their initial steps into the workforce. Being a member of the employer boards enables us to share years of our expertise in composite engineering and tailor it to the demands of the students. It’s a rewarding and enlightening experience that fulfils the needs of everyone involved.”

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