After a turbulent year, a light has appeared at the end of the tunnel with the first Covid-19 vaccinations being given to members of the public and healthcare staff this week.
As the first country in the world to approve and rollout the vaccine, this is a remarkable feat and an emotional moment for the many thousands of people involved in the research and development – as well as those waiting eagerly for protection against the virus.
Getting the vaccine to the people who most need it is now the priority, requiring a collective, Herculean effort unlike anything we have ever seen – and it is with great excitement that we, as a college, are able to support this.
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The FE sector is traditionally very good at working in partnership with employers and other stakeholders, such as local authorities and other agencies. We have focused on this for many years, understanding the importance of working closely with businesses to support the skills requirements of specific industries.
We are now drawing on this expertise as we join forces with our local NHS Trust – Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust - to support the rollout of the biggest immunisation programme of all time. To deliver vaccinations quickly and effectively, the right people need to be in the right place. From medical professionals to deliver the injections, through to admin support staff to book appointments – the infrastructure needed behind the frontline operation is immense.
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For us and our students, this offers some unique opportunities. In terms of careers, there are many possibilities within the NHS as a whole; the pandemic has most certainly shone a light on the need for committed and passionate NHS staff. But equally important is the role we can play to support the NHS with one of its greatest ever challenges and, indeed, our community and wider economy.
With Oxleas alone needing 1,000 people to join its vaccine taskforce by the end of March next year, a huge recruitment drive has begun. Individuals with a range of different skills are required for many different roles, but for those people with no previous healthcare experience, we have developed a four-week "Get Ready" programme to enable them to access the many roles on offer.
Via a dedicated NHS training page on our website and a targeted marketing and recruitment campaign, we will support Oxleas to access the skills and talent they need to achieve their goal of delivering this world-changing vaccine.
Looking at the bigger picture, this initiative represents more than just short-term job fulfilment. It’s about sustainable workforce development and coordinated collaboration with key employers within our region – a model very much in line with the Independent Commission on the College of the Future recommendations.
The FE sector is set to be at the centre of the post-Covid skills drive and economic recovery, with colleges capable of generating genuine social value alongside their education and training provision.
Our new group strategy focuses on our transformation from ‘just a college’ to a social enterprise, recognising the civic role we play across the region. This has been catalysed by the pandemic, with staff and students stepping up and supporting their local communities – from individual contributions like delivering blood to hospitals and making PPE, to collective efforts such as staffing of a region-wide SEND hub for vulnerable students at our Bexley Campus.
These types of initiatives support community wealth building and reflect the notion of "anchor institutions", which FE colleges are well placed to take the role of.
Alongside the many challenges that Covid-19 has brought with it this year are many incredible achievements and real community cohesion. The development of a vaccine in less than a year is certainly one example of what true partnership working can achieve – and its successful roll-out will require just as much cooperation, which we are proud to be part of.
The innovative partnership model we have developed with Oxleas will have lasting impact on our wider employer relationships – providing us with a true template of best practice and supporting our group aim to become a true social enterprise.
Dr Sam Parrett is the principal and chief executive at London South East Colleges