Award Winning NWRC Meeting the Covid-19 Challenge

Twelve months ago few could have foreseen what 2020 would bring as businesses, schools, and colleges were forced to close their buildings and the world was faced with the challenge of a global pandemic.

Offices remained empty and face-to-face meetings were suspended as kitchen tables and home offices became a new temporary hub of innovation and skills development for North West Regional College’s (NWRC) Business Support Centre (BSC) team.

NWRC BSC, which has spent the last six years supporting local employers and the economy, has continued to work effectively during this time, on its core aims of developing skills, fostering innovation, and driving applied research.

It’s been an award-winning year for the BSC team, winning the award for Best Employer Engagement at the Times Educational Supplement (Tes) Further Education Awards 2020, with the judges stating that the BSC had given College staff and students “a real chance to engage with employers, while simultaneously responding to the needs of businesses.”

The team’s focus remains on supporting local business through upskilling, and encouraging innovation by driving forward new ideas and concepts.

A new Digital Marketing Leaders course has recently been launched, as well as fully funded Level 3 qualification from the Institute of Export and International Trade, helping local businesses navigate Brexit. Two Assured Skills Academies, offering pre-employment training and the skills needed to compete for new employment have been completed, and the NWRC continues to grow and develop their range of courses through Skills Focus and upskilling.

Leo Murphy, NWRC Chief Executive and Principal commended the NWRC BSC team who have continued to support industry.

He said: “Our Business Support Centre team will continue to play a major role in the regeneration of the North West and we look forward to lending our support and expertise as we continue to build and grow the local economy.

“We look to the future, and the recent signing of the Heads of Terms for the City Deal and the Inclusive Future Fund Investment Plan, the largest investment ever in this City Region, hoping this will be a catalyst for change. “

Dr. Fergal Tuffy, Technology Innovation Manager at NWRC BSC said: “When we opened our Business Support Centre in 2015 it was as a direct response to the North-West economic and employment challenges.

“Today, it has supported more than 1,800 companies, providing bespoke upskilling and training opportunities, and is working with local employers to source funding for innovation and applied research projects. The centre has a specialist team of 23 staff, who keep abreast of new technologies to keep their industry knowledge and skills up to date.

“With the arrival of Covid, we like many others, utilised our Product Design Centre facilities to make over 2000 units of PPE. Along with our curriculum teams more than 470 employees from 190 businesses were trained online to level 2 or above via the Department for the Economy (DfE) Skills Focus programme. Furthermore more than 120 specialist interventions to assist businesses and entrepreneurs in developing new products, processes, and services in food and drink, engineering, and product design, IT and augmented reality. For example we assisted chefs to develop their own products and restaurants and takeaways to develop products for supermarket and online retail, leveraging DfE’s InnovateUs and Invest NI’s Innovation Voucher programmes. The College is also collaborating with local councils on various skills interventions in the computing, engineering and hospitality industries to provide employment opportunities for those out of work.”

Furthermore the NWRC has introduced a series of free short courses, as part of the DfE Covid Skills Interventions Programme. This is offering local people whose work, livelihood or well-being, has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the opportunity to upskill or retrain and receive an accredited qualification. The NWRC has secured £500k funding from DfE with a range of courses in Green Technologies, Leadership and Management, Manufacturing, Digital Technologies, and Healthcare.

Dr. Tuffy continued: “Our focus is to develop the skills of people, both those in employment and those affected by Covid, as we attempt to support the rebuilding of the North-West economy.

“These courses support people to develop new skills in sectors that we feel will be important to economic recovery post-Covid.

“Covid-19 has changed the way the world operated pre-2020, with many workforces prompted to adopt a new model of working, while also adapting to a virtual and digital world.

“The college has continued to deliver fully funded courses for businesses that can be accessed via mobile phones, computers, and tablet devices, funded by the Department for the Economy’s Skills Focus Programme. Upskilling is key for every business. It enables businesses to support their staff on furlough and also for owners or directors to develop new skills to move forward positively with a new way of doing business.

“Our aim at NWRC is to continue this work by developing skills, fostering innovation and driving applied research, coupled with supporting the wider college community to ensure an industry-relevant professional and technically skilled curriculum, all with the aim of growing the economy in Northern Ireland.”

You can contact the Business Support Centre www.bsc.nwrc.ac.uk

Pictured with the TES award are L-R Dr Fergal Tuffy, Technology Innovation Manager at NWRC BSC, Philip Devlin, Product Design Centre Manager, Stella Graham, Manager Foodovation Centre, and Sinead Hawkins, Business Skills Manager. (Pic Martin McKeown)
L-R Dr Fergal Tuffy, Technology Innovation Manager at NWRC BSC, Patrick McKeown, Director of Finance and Economic Engagement, NWRC, Philip Devlin, Product Design Centre Manager, Stella Graham, Manager Foodovation Centre, Leo Murphy, Chief Executive and Principal of NWRC, and Sinead Hawkins, Business Skills Manager. (Pic Martin McKeown)