From Launch to Liftoff – BLOG: Claire Arbery, WEIoT Director

In October 2020, the launch of the West of England IoT (WEIoT) coincided with the Secretary of State for Education announcing that a further 8 Institutes of Technology would be sought throughout the UK.  In the nine months since the WEIoT was opened what have the partners in this flagship venture managed to achieve?  

What are Institutes of Technology? 

IoT’s are innovative collaborations between further education (FE) providers, universities and employers. They specialise in delivering higher technical education and apprenticeships with a focus on STEM subjects, such as engineering, digital and in this region, Health.  

They play a vital role delivering the technical skills that local businesses need. By providing world-class employer focused technical education, IoTs offer a clear route into high skilled, high wage employment. This will boost both local employment and social mobility across the country. 

Supporting the teaching workforce  

Supporting staff has been a key pillar in the development of the Institute of Technology and since the launch WEIoT have invested in teaching staff by providing access to the Jisc digital capability toolkit, a framework for them to assess the digital skills.  Additionally the WEIoT have supported educational partners to employ five staff members from within the team to become digital coaches for their peers and only last week (2nd July) we hosted our first digital educators conference for all 5 partners, with over 80 participants joining throughout the day. All sessions were recorded so those unable to join live could still engage with the content. This was the starting point for bringing teachers and educators together and building a learning community for all involved in the teaching of Higher Technical Education.  

Renovated teaching spaces  

Part of the investments made in the WEIoT has been the creation of distinct IoT spaces within each of the partner campuses.  Since March 20, building works have been underway to create IoT  

spaces in Weston, Bath, Gloucestershire and Yeovil Colleges.  All of these will be open for teaching in Sept 21, along with our brand-new teaching space, embedded within the Global Technology Centre in North Bristol, and an IoT first, with teaching facilities created within the research facilities lead by GKN Aerospace.  

Industry standard – specialist equipment  

One of the biggest challenges we are asked to address with employers, is the need for the workforce to be able to operate the industry standard cutting-edge equipment.  We have responded to this by using the investment from the Department for Education to secure access to the state-of-the-art industry standard equipment for our students, to learn the basic operations of many of the leading machines in industry.   

Supporting our learners  

IoTs play an important role in widening local participation in technical education and training from disadvantaged and under-represented groups and in supporting adults to reskill and upskill as needed.  We will be focusing our efforts from Sept 21 to promote the opportunities of technical education to those who may not realise this is available to them as an option, to move to better paid employment. This September will also see a standardised IoT awareness session for all learners joining at whichever IoT partner institution, and a welcome event.   

And onto the future  

We are now all focusing our attention to the autumn when we will welcome our new student learners to the academic partners. As part of this year’s development we are scheduling a welcome event for all IoT learners within the West of England IoT to build their sense of community and to create networks early within their learning programmes.   Making connections across the region, and sharing experiences is one of the strengths of our IoT, and we aim to build on this next academic year,  

It has been hugely challenging, launching and driving forward the WEIoT in a global pandemic,  but on the National Launch to celebrate the opening of the first 12 IoT’s, it’s amazing to reflect back on what we collectively have achieved, here in the West of England.