THE SKILL SET
The jobs market for school and college leavers is increasingly competitive, but Harrow College ensures that its students and adult learners are ahead of the curve. A general further education college, Harrow has radically changed its ethos and strategy over the last few years from simply offering education to helping its students improve their lives. The college, based in the north-west London borough, caters for around 2,000 students aged 16-to-18 and 5,000 adult learners. And, while some of its students are taking A levels, 95 per cent are on vocational courses.
But whatever qualification a student is working towards, he or she also benefits from what college Principal Pat Carvalho calls “an employability, enterprise and entrepreneurship strategy”. “At the heart of this,” she says, “is how we develop the mindset of our students to be thinking about those softer skills that employers and universities tell us they want in addition to qualifications, such as resilience, creativity, curiosity, communication and collaboration. We recognise that when you go into work it is not necessarily going to be a job for life but rather a series of careers over your lifetime, and possibly careers that haven’t been created yet.”
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
The college has invested heavily in digital and creative skills, and professional and business services courses in partnership with the Careers College Trust. It recently opened an Enterprise Centre, which plays a key role in equipping all students with the necessary digital skills. A digital and creative unit is a direct response to the revolution that has taken place across all business sectors, and to the emergence of fresh career challenges, such as website verification and cybersecurity.
“We are at an exciting point at Harrow College – moving away from the traditional delivery of vocational programmes,” says Carvalho. “We work closely with employers to make sure students have a good baseline of IT skills to join existing and emerging employers. Employer engagement is vital to understanding the careers of the future.” While the college has long provided finance courses, it is remodelling the curriculum to include more real-life experiences and give students time to develop their own business ideas. To this end, half of the spaces in the incubation area of the Enterprise Centre will be devoted to supporting students’ business ventures.
Carvalho explains that the college is not trying to second guess which careers will be important in the future, but to ensure students have relevant digital and entrepreneurial skills for the workplaces of tomorrow. “For us, it is the skills, such as flexibility and resilience, that are key and will serve students best,” she says. “It is about having the confidence to make use of those attributes that will provide the right foundation to take up career opportunities in the UK or abroad.”