Leeds City College champion employer engagement and understand its importance in vocational education. They not just have advice to offer but also best practice case studies, which highlight the outcomes and benefits of engaging with employers and its importance in providing students with applicable and relevant skills for work. Here, they discuss their encouraging work with Metalcraft UK.


Leeds City College has been designing and delivering bespoke training and curriculum to suit the diverse needs of companies in the engineering and manufacturing sector across Bradford and the wider Leeds City Region for many years. This expertise and connection to the sector resulted in employers coming together to establish the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Industrial Centre of Excellence (ICE).

Metalcraft UK are a high end metal fabrication company manufacturing for the food industry for companies such as Coca Cola and Morrison’s and working on projects as diverse as exhaust systems for super yachts and stainless steel floating staircases for Selfridge’s flagship store on Oxford Street. They are longstanding client of Keighley College; part of the Leeds City College estate, and as such they were invited to be on the board of companies giving strategic direction to the ICE, based within the Keighley College.

The ICE takes in young people from local schools to study GCSE engineering with a view to encouraging them into job roles in a sector where there is a current shortage of suitably skilled new recruits in its effort to supply highly skilled, qualified and work ready further education leavers to support sector and economic growth. The ICE offers young people pathways through into employment via apprenticeships.

Metalcraft UK Director, Nathan Varley, has played a key role in both steering this new facility and in representing it at a range of events. He has helped the college identify areas where there are skills gaps and has championed the impact of higher level skills to support industry growth and diversification. Nowhere is this more prevalent than coding and certification for welders where Nathan encouraged the college to invest in training for staff to meet a need he not only had himself, but that he knew was in wider demand.

This highly technical course is now in place at Keighley College and is a clear example of it meeting employer needs through partnership working. Metalcraft are also practicing what they preach through the ICE and have employed two new apprentices from the first cohort of young engineers to complete their GCSE through the ICE centre.

Manufacturing is a major employment sector within the Leeds City Region, with a significant concentration of manufacturing SMEs located within the Bradford Metropolitan District, where the Keighley College is situated.

Nationally, the manufacturing sector continues to report significant skills shortages that impact sustainably and impede growth. Data taken from the latest UCKES Employer Skills Survey (2015) reveals that skills shortages are most predominantly reported in skilled trades and occupations, professionals and machine operatives.

Coupled with the knowledge that the demand for more people with higher-level skills is expected to be particularly strong in sectors central to growth such as construction (+73%), manufacturing (+69%) and engineering, science and hi-tech (+52%) Leeds City College is committed to developing its provision to ensure the continual supply of relevant and suitable skills to support economic growth across key UK employment and growth sectors.

 For example, its work with companies such as Metalcraft UK and the establishment of the ICE has also led to the development of a further range of pathways from entry level through to higher level skills and engineering degree qualifications. 

The Engineering qualifications available at Leeds City College now includes GCSEs, BTEC Level 3, Advanced Apprenticeships, Higher Apprenticeships, HNCs, HNDs and Degrees, with full-time and part-time options available as suits the individual and employer.

Through its partnership work with employers, the college has also realised the potential for multi-skilled engineers, and has diversified and added to its offer of mechanical engineering pathways, to include an electro-mechanical engineering pathway, supported by additional facilities and equipment.

A key element of the college’s engagement with employers is ensuring activities are led by local businesses.  The ICE currently has a board led by a local business representative with a number of other employers and associate partners who are all engaged with the education partners through a variety of activities.   Each of these organisations acts as ambassadors for the ICE and promotes the benefits of this learning and development route within their wider stakeholder and employer networks.