Blackpool & The Fylde College: how focusing on skills for local businesses created a national success story

With an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ rating and the UK’s top employment figures for past graduates, NWL Chamber Patrons, Blackpool and the Fylde College (B&FC) is a driving force in skills and training for the Blackpool area. Claire Lee, Director of New Business, talked to us about links with business, the college’s facilities and what the future holds.

With industry, for industry
As educational institutions go, B&FC is about as far from being an ‘ivory tower’ as you can get. It’s deeply connected with the local business network, and builds its offering around employer demand as well as learner vocation – an approach that’s hugely valued by local employers.
“It’s very much about local businesses and local skills,” Claire explains. “We look at where skills are needed and develop a strategy to support growth, prosperity and productivity for each business we work with. We also work closely with employers to build our curriculum.”
One example is the Lancashire Energy HQ, a facility that gives students access to hands-on experiences like a nuclear reactor simulator and practical workshops. “The staff include industry experts who are very skilled and experienced, and we’ve developed the offering using insights from some big industry partners around the region,” says Claire

Wide range, large scale
B&FC’s collaborations are numerous as well as diverse. “We work with over 2,000 employers,” says Claire. “One-man-bands, large blue chips and everything in between, as well as local authority and NHS partners.”
The subjects on offer are broad too, with courses from entry-level up to Chartered Managers Degree.
“Our curriculum covers leadership management and lifestyle, including tourism and leisure, the construction sector, health and social care, performing arts, and we are very active in the digital space,” says Claire.
Another major focus is businesses with STEM skills requirements. The college recently worked with Lancaster University to offer master classes free of charge to advanced manufacturing and engineering SMEs. “We work closely with businesses to identify and address technical skills gaps,” says Claire. “The funding helps upskill employees and also gives companies access to degree apprenticeships.”

From classroom to boardroom
One of the things employers love about B&FC is its whole-career remit, which extends from school leavers to graduates and beyond.’
“You can walk through our doors at 16 and use an apprenticeship to gain the employment skills and opportunities to start your career,” Claire says. “You’re on a succession plan within a business, and we support their management strategy to put that journey together.”

Matching the pace of change in the FE sector
“The world has changed, since apprenticeship reforms came in over the last couple of years,” says Claire, “so it’s about being a partner of choice not a training provider or college.”
In response, B&FC has developed a dedicated brand that’s wholly focused on business partnerships. “B&FC for Business is our corporate-facing B2B arm. We’re working with employers to support and grow their business, which creates local jobs and grows the local economy.”

The Blackpool experience
“There’s a huge sense of belonging here,” says Claire of the Blackpool region. “We’ve seen significant investment going into the area with some exciting new projects including new hotels and improvement to our transport infrastructure. That helps the community become better connected to what’s here – fresh air, sea views, beautiful surroundings. There’s always something to do.”

And for new businesses considering the area, there’s a lot on offer too
“It’s the second most visited destination in the UK, outside London,” says Claire, “so there’s a lot of footfall coming through, and it’s becoming more of a year-round destination. The opportunities with this current investment are all happening right now, and there’s potentially a lot of prosperity for any business choosing to come here.”

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