Beginnings are interesting things. Last October, six FE colleges on Tyneside launched a consortium that will allow work-related learning in the region to be better resourced, better targeted and more successfully delivered. G6 is led by the principals of Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle, Tynemouth and the North and South Tyneside colleges.
"We're very much still six independent colleges making our own decisions," says Roy Bailey from Tynemouth. "But we now talk about what we want to do, how we want to do it and how we can do it most effectively."
Part of the impetus came from South Tyneside Training and Enterprise Council, where Olivia Grant (right) had been keen to promote a closer working partnership. But some of the push came from local employers, concerned about shortages of skilled labour. They set up Training Development Resource to address those shortages and the colleges have been working closely with TDR.
The prize for collaboration came in the form of a grant to G6 worth nearly pound;1 million from the Further Education Collaboration Fund, set up to bring colleges together to avoid duplications in spending. Arthur Chadwick, vice-principal at South Tyneside College, says: "It's pound;877,000 in capital, plus pound;60-70K to support an investigation looking into skills in the area."
The money has allowed the colleges to invest in facilities that would have been unthinkable without such extra resources. North Tyneside College has set up a world-class electronics facility and is the only FE college in the country wih "clean-room" technology where people can work in a dust-free environment to assemble electronic goods. Newcastle has developed Auto CAD (computer design) facilities, while Tynemouth has invested inMarine Design.
Chadwick says: "Less tangible benefits come in the way it has brought the colleges together on a range of issues. We now work together. We expect this September to announce a consortium Higher National Certificate, where delivery of the core course at one college will be supported by specialist units offered by the others."
Foundation degrees will also be launched in the autumn in a consortium with the three local universities. This is one of 21 successful bids culled from 56 applications; it has brought an additional pound;500,000 from the Department for Education and Employment into the area. G6 has also pulled together the student records of all six colleges.
"We now know what is being delivered to 100,000 students," says Roy Bailey. "When we get a request from an employer, we are able to respond immediately. We can tell them what skills are being developed. We can also look at the skills base within the colleges to see if we need to make any changes to the training being delivered."
The issue for local learning and skills councils arising from the G6 success is whether private training providers will be able to collaborate in the same way in future and bid for capital funding. This is a question a lot of people are asking, but they may have to wait a while for an answer.