Through fostering close links to industry and with BCS, the South Central Institute of Technology in Bletchley is creating new and inclusive IT career pathways. Jim Nowell, Head of School, talks to Martin Cooper MBCS.

Based in Bletchley, a town which needs no introduction to IT professionals, the South Central Institute of Technology provides higher level technical qualifications, apprenticeships and short courses.

The project is led by Milton Keynes College Group, working with a consortium of world-leading brands including Microsoft, KPMG, Activate Learning, and Cranfield University as well as parts of the Institutes of Technology.

The organisation works in partnership with BCS and is a BCS approved centre.

Q. Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a little about South Central Institute of Technology in Bletchley.

I’m Jim Nowell, I’m the Head of School for the South Central Institute of Technology (IOT) at the Bletchley campus. My role is to support the development of our ever-evolving digital curriculum, to provide our learners with the skills and behaviours needed to meet the current and future needs of employers in the digital sector. We do this with a team of experienced lecturers and industry professionals. Our learning is delivered with a hybrid approach of face-to-face and online sessions to suit the needs of the individual on their learning journey.

Q. If you had to sum up your mission, or reason for being, in a sentence, what would you say?

We’re here to bridge the digital skills gap, understand and respond to business needs, and support our learners with progressing into positive employment in the digital and tech sectors. This is all centred around our four core values of Include, Innovate, Connect and Challenge.

Q. Tell us about the Institute of Technology model. What’s special about it?

Institutes of Technology are centred around real-world learning, with the focus mostly on HE [higher education] and adult-focused provision. At the South Central IOT in Bletchley, all of the units in our HE courses are mapped to live projects, which means that the relationship between curriculum and industry practice is clearer than in more traditional education.

To help us deliver these real-world learning experiences, the IOT is equipped with industry-leading equipment and facilities, with courses delivered by leaders in digital and tech who have come directly from industry and can bring their valuable insights into their own areas.

This is further enhanced by our partnerships with global industry leaders such as Microsoft and KPMG.

Q. Talk to us about your relationship with industry and how you work with leading tech brands.

Our industry partners are at the core of what we offer. Our anchor partners such as Microsoft and KPMG help us to shape the curriculum and ensure that it’s reflective of the skills that our learners need for successful careers in the sector, both now and in the future. We also have guest lecturers who help to keep our learners on top of employer opportunities, new trends and best practice within the industry. Plus, we value employers and businesses approaching us and giving us their insight, so that we can continue to look for opportunities to enhance our students’ learning experiences.

Q. And your teachers – or lecturers. Who are they and what’s special about them?

Our lecturers are industry practitioners who pride themselves on their connections to industry. This means that the content we deliver and the skills our learners develop matches up with the needs of current and future employers. Having lecturers with such strong links to industry also means that they can adapt their course content according to what’s happening in their areas of expertise.

Q. And your learners or pupils... who are they?

Institutes of Technology are, at their core, about HE level education, with most of our current learners being at that point. However, we also see our role in the long term as supporting those learners who aspire to work in the digital technology sector but don’t perhaps have the educational background or skills to get there yet. This includes learners at entry level, further education, access into digital and tech, those looking to change careers or retrain entirely. This focus on the full learning journey will allow us to not only support a wider range of learners but will also ensure that we have a sustainable future.

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Our learners are passionate about digital and tech, with skills they have of course developed through their previous education experiences, but also through their own individual passions and interests. This enthusiasm for the world of digital and tech and the opportunities it offers is something we want to continue to nurture for our learners, as well as help them on their journey to developing successful careers in this sector.

We’re also aware that our learners have varying and diverse needs, and we’re committed to ensuring that everyone feels included and supported throughout their time with us. This of course includes people with neurodiversity, additional needs and those from the LGBTQ+ communities, who might not usually feel supported to succeed in tech.

Q. Where does BCS fit into the story?

Our partnership with BCS enables the South Central IOT Bletchley to develop a more well-rounded course offering. While our current courses appeal to learners who are looking to start their careers in digital and tech, the BCS professional qualifications will enable us to reach learners who want to take the next step in their careers and to fit studying in around their lives. These courses are ideal for those looking to formalise their knowledge and to learn in a part-time setting that’s easier to fit in around their work and other commitments.

Plus, with the BCS being the Chartered Institute for IT, the expertise and professionalism they offer is a perfect fit for the high standard of education we provide. Together, we’re able to support learners in taking their current knowledge further and subsequently taking the next step in their careers in this sector.

Finally, we’re offering the BCS Level 4 Certificate in IT in a way that’s not been delivered in the UK before. With the choice between in-person evening classes and online learning, learners have the flexibility to study in a way that suits them best.

Q. What do you say to employers struggling to fill tech jobs?

For employers struggling to fill tech jobs, look to education to upskill your current employees and work with education providers like us to inform the curriculum for future learners. This will ensure that not only is the skills gap resolved for today, but you’re able to help inform the skills developed by future employees too.

Q. If we came back in a year’s time, how would the IOT be different?

By September 2023, our state-of-the-art building at Bletchley will be fully open and operational, with industry-leading equipment and learning spaces.

In a year’s time, we will also have expanded our range of courses to allow for a diverse range of topics and pathways, as well as for a wider range of learners – from entry level through to degree pathways and professional qualifications. And we will continue to evolve and adapt to not just keep up with, but to stay ahead of changes in the needs of the tech sector and the employers within it.

Finally, our key goal is to be able to support the learning journey for any learner at any time, by helping them to progress all the way through to positive employment in the digital tech sector. And looking further ahead, our dream is for our alumni to return to us to give their insights on working in the tech sector, to share their learning journey with current students and to help us shape the curriculum of the future.

Find out more about the South Central Institute of Technology