Incoming Suffolk New College boss wants it to be ‘first choice’ for Ipswich

Viv Gillespie, new principal at Suffolk New College.

Viv Gillespie, new principal at Suffolk New College.

The new boss of Suffolk New College has said it must play a key part in Ipswich’s future as the county and town prepare for major new earmarked developments which could bring thousands of jobs to the region.

In her first in-depth interview Viv Gillespie, the college’s new principal, said they must work closer with big business to reap the “massive” rewards of new projects like Sizewell C and developments at Adastral Park as well as benefitting fully from major economic areas like the Port of Felixstowe.

Talking about the region’s economic strengths and new growth sectors, she said: “I think there’s a lot of STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths], but there’s a lot of allied construction, for example the Sizewell project alone will have a massive construction requirement so we are working with employers to identify that and there will be other sectors as well at Adastral park and IT and so on.

“So looking at which areas we need to grow and review the courses to make sure they are up to date and relevant and have the content that employers want whilst of course we have to work within those national frameworks of qualifications.”

Mrs Gillespie, who has more than 25 years experience in further education, described Ipswich as a “hidden gem” and recognised the county’s proximity to London, with its nationally-recognised countryside and coastline. She has replaced Dave Muller who stood down after 16 years in the post.

Although she only started the job two weeks ago, she does not have long until the college is re-inspected by Ofsted following last year’s ‘requires improvement’ grade. Ofsted is due to inspect the college in either the next autumn or spring term.

She is already planning changes to broaden the appeal of the college’s apprenticeship programme in line with employers’ demands in the region.

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She said: “There are big ambitions for Suffolk and nationally to grow apprenticeships, we already have a good range at varying levels but it’s about seeing what might be appropriate for the area and its growing industries and also in line with the LEP’s [Local Enterprise Partnership] priorities. So we are looking at what we are doing and seeing what employers want to build the offer.”

A new business development director is being appointed whose key role will be to build a close relationships between employers and the college.

Mrs Gillespie outlined her vision for the college, which had a £70million major transformation in 2009: “[We want] to be the first choice for young people and businesses in the area for those who wish to pursue vocational careers or into higher education through diploma routes and so on, we have a fantastic range on offer through construction, engineering, art, care, hospitality and catering which can lead to apprenticeships, jobs, further learning or into higher education for employers.

“We offer already a range of apprenticeships which I am going to broaden out – that’s about learning what employers want.”

Work is also under way on the college’s new strategic plan. Governors and staff will be consulted with in the autumn – in a process to create a new five-year vision for the college – which is due to be published by the end of the year.

Her new role comes at a time of increased financial pressure from the Government. Central funding nationally has been squeezed in recent years – with Mrs Gillespie calling on college bosses across the country to unite and raise the profile of further education.

She said: “It’s particularly difficult at the moment, the government has difficult decisions to make across all of its spend and we fully understand that but I think the sector would like more parity with the other two sections that I mentioned,” she said.