An innovative new skills partnership that bridges the gap between education and the world of work has been launched in Sunderland.

Alongside Gentoo, Sunderland College and Bishop Chadwick Education Trust will co-design and deliver the ‘Gentoo Trades Academy’ which will see 14-16-year-olds study towards a specialised construction qualification alongside their GCSEs to advance the skills pipeline in the region.

The Academy, launching later this year, will initially be based at Sunderland College’s technical City Campus before moving to the college’s new Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy (HICSA) when the world-class training centre opens in 2025.

Supported by the college and a team of colleagues from Gentoo, the pupils will develop the knowledge, skills, and behaviours to progress onto a T-Level or an apprenticeship, to prepare them for an exciting career in the construction and housing industry.

Building on the success of the Nissan Skills Academy, this construction and trades model will be a first for the region and trailblazing in terms of housing organisations.

Louise Bassett, Gentoo’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “We are delighted to be able to partner with Sunderland College and Bishop Chadwick Education Trust on this fantastic new venture.

“It’s really exciting to be able to see this come to life. For these pupils to have the opportunity to be trained at the world-class HICSA training facility is amazing and we wish them all the best with their future studies.” Councillor Graeme Miller, Leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Sunderland is an ambitious and fast-changing city – and with that transformation comes more opportunity for our young people.

“Collaboration – such as this – between anchor institutions in the city will allow us to unlock the vast potential of our young people, creating pathways to rewarding careers.”

Ellen Thinnesen, Chief Executive of Education Partnership North East and Sunderland College, said: “HICSA originated for the collective vision of Cllr Miller, Sunderland City Council, MOBIE and Sunderland College. What the public will start to hear more about over the coming months is the development of several innovative skills models entirely driven by strategic collaboration.

“In this example. I cannot express how deeply impressed I have been by the inspirational leadership of Gentoo and Bishop Chadwick Education Trust. Along with my Deputy Chief Executive Toni Rhodes, a truly employer led curriculum has been designed uniquely blending technical and national school-based curriculum with the values, skills and competencies required by the construction and housing industries.”

The initial cohort will be from St Wilfrid’s RC College which is part of Bishop Chadwick Education Trust, who will split their time between Sunderland College City Campus and valuable sector experience at Gentoo, where they will learn about different aspects of trades required to meet the demands of a significant housing association providing homes for more than 60,000 people.

The curriculum will also include retrofit related skills, modern methods of construction as well as the essential trade skills include multi-skills, health and safety and essential communication skills when working in customer homes.

Academy pupils will receive a guaranteed unconditional offer to continue their education at Sunderland College and a guaranteed interview at Gentoo for an apprenticeship upon graduating from the Trades Academy.

Brendan Tapping, Chief Executive at Bishop Chadwick Education Trust, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership to provide a blend of high-quality workplace experience and qualifications to our students.

“This is an exciting opportunity providing an in-depth understanding of the trades required in the modern housing industry. It will provide our students with an advantage, as they begin their career journeys in a competitive jobs market, allowing them to be the best version of themselves.”

Sunderland College has worked in partnership with Gentoo for several years, with dozens of apprentices securing full-time positions within the housing association. This led to the formalisation of a strategic partnership in 2017 to develop the region’s workforce.

To date, the collaboration has allowed Sunderland College to ensure its students are gaining the necessary skills to prepare them for the world of work and have helped Gentoo to promote employment and career opportunities to students through work experience initiatives, whilst providing further development and training to develop its workforce.

HICSA – a ground-breaking training base that will educate and upskill local people with the technical skills to build, retrofit and create innovative factory-built new homes – will rise from the ground in 2024, after a partnership agreement was signed between Sunderland College and development lead Sunderland City Council, who have appointed local firm Brims Construction Limited to construct the facility.

Located in the heart of Riverside Sunderland – one of the UK’s most ambitious regeneration sites – HICSA will provide ‘next generation skills for next generation homes’ and support the city’s advanced manufacturing, carbon reduction and renewable energy ambitions, working with young people and adults to ensure they are able to install new technologies and construct homes of the future.