By Paul Fraser
The new manager of Optimum Skills’ Newton Aycliffe hub credits her own journey is proof of just what the North-East training and apprenticeship provider can do to help you.
Charley Haigh joined Optimum Skills in 2020 after serving as a Level 2 and 3 recruitment apprentice with a recruitment agency after leaving Queen Elizabeth College in Darlington four years earlier with her A-levels.
Born and bred in Newton Aycliffe, the 26-year-old, a former Greenfield Community College pupil, was then offered a full-time role with Optimum Skills.
Over the last few years she has progressed from being a member of the recruitment team to the development side of the business and now she has been promoted to manager of the Newton Aycliffe training academy.
“I experienced first-hand how Optimum Skills can develop people,” said Charley.
“This is a great place to work, really caring, and we are passionate about supporting ambitions.
“With me living in Aycliffe too, I want to see local people and businesses succeed. It’s all about providing training and education opportunities to optimise people’s potential.”
Similar stories run through the business. Kayleigh Lowdon started with Optimum Skills as a digital marketing Level 3 apprentice in 2018 and is now a marketing executive. She is looking to take on a new marketing apprentice.
Optimum Skills celebrates its tenth birthday in October and has grown from a company with a few employees focused on traineeships to a 50-strong workforce that delivers high quality training and apprenticeships.
Its first Ofsted rating 12 months ago was ‘good’ and included plenty of positive feedback from learners, employers, referral partners and employees as well.
In 2020 its Gateshead Construction Academy was opened, followed by the Middlesbrough Academy and just last year the Newcastle Benfield Construction Academy was opened, too.
Now Charley will be heading up the academy from the Newton Aycliffe HQ.
She said: “We want to build on our success and service businesses on Aycliffe Business Park.
“We are specific to County Durham and the surrounding areas. Through our various academies, we can offer a range of qualifications in different sectors and levels.
“With us being based in Newton Aycliffe, we want to support people in this community and progress their career goals. We want to support local businesses in developing and upskilling their staff.
“We are a massive advocate for employee development. We constantly look to develop our own staff and we promote that within Aycliffe Business Park.
“Many of our employees started their journey with us as trainees and apprentices, progressing onto higher level qualifications and growing within the company.”
A big focus for Optimum Skills is developing digital skills through government funding for 16-18-year-olds and 19-plus, whether they are employed or unemployed.
Joshua Mahan and Thomas Sinclair have both enjoyed digital skills traineeships suggesting “the enrichment, tutors and other learners are nice, and the programme hasn’t felt tense at all” and that they “found the activities associated with the topics enjoyable.”
From September, Optimum Skills have bootcamps in digital skills planned for those aged 19 or above.
The bootcamps are a completely new offer at Optimum Skills and are designed to embrace new methods and techniques across the workplace, particularly given the importance of social media and websites to businesses these days.
These bootcamps have three main areas of focus, which are digital marketing, digital leadership and data analytics and will predominantly be focused on upskilling existing workforces.
Charley said: “We can offer these bootcamps to the unemployed, but that will predominantly be with a digital marketing focus.
“Mainly these bootcamps will be more employer-led business-to-business with a focus on upskilling staff to gain a greater responsibility at work.
“That could be anyone who wants to gain that greater understanding, provided the employer is happy with that, or in other situations, it could be that someone who works in an admin role wants to take the next step into digital marketing.
“The need for digital marketing has grown a lot across the business world, regardless of the industry you are in.
“It is evolving all the time too and we are trying to keep up to date with business needs so we can develop with everyone else.”
The courses last for several weeks. If the learner was unemployed then they would attend online sessions or attend the Aycliffe training hub over consecutive days.
For the employed learners they would set up for one or two training days each week and this bootcamp service is available across the whole of the North-East.
Optimum Skills will also work with clients to develop the programme to suit their requirements, accepting that every business operates differently with varying areas of focus.
Charley said: “We always try to accommodate employers to make training bespoke to fit their needs.
“We genuinely do care, people might always say that, but we do. We want to invest the time and energy to try to make them succeed.
“We are looking to partner with local employers and community groups to try to reach the wider community who are looking for the next step in their career path.”
For more details check out optimumskills.co.uk.