Keighley’s tradespeople can help us boost the district’s skills level

Principal Kevin O’Hare and Head of Construction and Building Services, Greg Bourke, explain why experienced tradespeople can make the difference

Our town and district has a proud history of being a centre for skilled trades.

It is also well positioned, through initiatives like the Manufacturing, Engineering and Future Technologies Hub we will open later this year, to build on that reputation.

But exciting schemes like this, vital as they are, and all the theoretical knowledge we can communicate in the classroom are only half the story. While there’s no doubt that advances in AI and immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) have improved our ability to teach practical subjects, students also need to hear from, and see, actual humans who can share their lived experience.

The need for industry-experienced teachers

West Yorkshire is currently suffering due to a scarcity of these kinds of teachers who have a wealth of industry expertise just waiting to be passed on. That, in turn, is hampering the work our college and other education and training providers are doing, not least through apprenticeships, to address the skills gaps holding our economy back.

Those gaps are real and, particularly in certain sectors, severe. The UK Trade Skills Index 2023 flagged up that the UK will need 937,000 new recruits in trades and construction, where vacancies are currently at record highs, over the next 10 years.

That makes the effort we put into creating a pipeline of newly skilled tradespeople to replace those who are retiring all the more important. Demand to study these subjects is actually high but our ability to train is being hindered because there aren’t enough teachers with the required industry experience.

This shortage could well lead to a decline in the number of apprentices entering these trades and, ultimately, translate into a shortage of qualified tradespeople.

A time for action

Our top priority has to be the recruitment of key further education staff, with suitable industry experience, to support and drive training. A collaborative approach involving closer working relationships with the sector is crucial to achieve this.

We are proud to have already developed a strong partnership with the local engineering and manufacturing industry, and enjoy fruitful partnerships with firms like Ex-Pressed Steel Panels, Teconnex, Produmax, Byworth Boilers and Acorn Stairlifts. To solve this teaching crisis, we need to build on that while forging similar bonds with electrical and construction service businesses.

How you can help the next generation

A major part of the challenge is to convince tradespeople that they actually have something to offer in the educational space. Many don’t necessarily see themselves as educators and, while wanting to help, perhaps feel they lack the expertise or confidence to teach – especially if they had negative experiences at school.

If that sounds like you then we have a very simple message: it doesn’t matter to us what your O Levels or GCSEs were, we just need individuals who feel they can give something back, engage with young people and communicate the things they’ve learnt from doing their everyday jobs. It’s about making it understandable to the young people who come to us and, in turn, our students have so much respect for those who have ‘walked the walk’.

The time to act is now and here at college we’ll be doing just that on Tuesday 14 May, when we’ll be inviting electricians and plumbers to pop in, see what we do, and find out about getting involved in the wonderfully rewarding world of teaching. To find out more about our Brew and Trades Chat visit .