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Be Inspired Series

Chris Corken

Curriculum Business Lead, Energy And Sustainability
Belfast Metropolitan College

What does your role involve?
I am the curriculum business lead for energy and sustainability at Belfast Metropolitan College, based at the new e3 building on the Springvale Campus.

As part of my role I engage with the engineering and built environment sector in the context of energy and sustainability ensuring that the college curriculum reflects industry practice and provides learners with opportunities to develop or enhance their skills so that they leave jobready and capable of making a significant contribution to an employer’s effectiveness.

In today's environment, investment in training and continuing professional development is a pre-requisite for success.

I manage a training portfolio that promotes the development of skills and knowledge in renewable energy, sustainable building practices and innovation in the application of energy management technology.

Belfast Met offers a range of renewable energy and building services courses, from Level 1 to Foundation degree, and can provide tailored support to people beginning their career or to SMEs seeking to expand market opportunities.

I facilitated the development of the Energy Skills Training Network, a collaborative cluster of companies operating in the energy sector with the aim of identifying market opportunities, delivering supply chain ready initiatives and providing innovative solutions for up-skilling employees using Belfast Met’s specialist facilities for research and development or training.


How did you get into the position in the first place?

I worked in the electrical building services industry for approximately 12 years on commercial and industrial projects around the UK and Ireland including contracts at power stations, airports and stadia. In 2003, I began lecturing in electrical installation and building services at Castlereagh College which later merged with Belfast Institute to become Belfast Metropolitan College.

While lecturing I was interested in widening the course provision, developing progression routes for students and sourcing additional revenue from bespoke training contracts with local engineering businesses. The opportunity arose to move from curriculum delivery into curriculum support as part of the college’s business development team and I have been in post since February 2011.


Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?

I’ve always been involved in this sector. I left school at 16 and completed an electrical apprenticeship before going into industry. I completed an HND in electrical and electronic engineering studying parttime and working full-time and later undertook an engineering degree through the Open University.

While teaching I was primarily involved in training and apprenticeships.I am an advocate for the importance of apprenticeships — when teaching I could share the benefit of my own experience and promote the opportunities that apprentices can take, such as setting up on their own, travelling and working abroad or finding employment in a diverse range of jobs.


What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?

Implementing successful training programmes requires a combination of commercial awareness and an understanding of teaching and learning methods. My combined industry and lecturing experience means I can devise strategies taking into consideration the needs of both the learner and the employer.

Registering with the Engineering Council UK has equipped me with the relevant skills, knowledge and credibility to facilitate genuine engagement with industry and I’m currently in the process of becoming a chartered engineer. These accreditations prove to engineers in the business that I can bring to them the right mix of industry experience and academia.


What is your organisation's role in the local community?

The college’s role in the wider community is to ensure that it is economically relevant, providing the best opportunities for our learners and its outlying communities. We recognise the significance of FE and lifelong learning in promoting social development through our curriculum and work closely with Invest NI and DEL to ensure our engagements are aligned with strategies to embed key economic policy and in turn develop the college’s capability to be a driver for local, sub-regional and regional development.


And how does your role fit in as part of this?

I work as part of the business development team which provides innovative, cost effective and tailored support to companies throughout Northern Ireland to help both start-up and established companies realise their potential, support their growth and up-skill existing employees for diversification in a changing economy.


What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?

I would say you have to have energy and enthusiasm for the sector, the ability to see opportunities, the patience to see projects through from initiation to completion and a methodical approach with an openness to see things from differing perspectives.

I have found that empathy is important in both teaching and working with businesses; when teaching engineering it was important to relate the topic to examples in a real working environment. Now that I work directly with employers I can be empathetic to their needs given my experience and knowledge of the marketplace.


What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?

There’s plenty of variety in my role. I work collaboratively with forward thinking companies and alongside agencies such as Invest NI which has given me access to worldwide projects. Personally, I find it rewarding engaging with so many fantastic local engineering companies; I get to work on research and development and see the resultant engineering projects in action.

A big challenge for the sector is the need to reduce energy consumption both in and out of home. There’s a lot that still needs to be done to change attitudes towards energy efficiency and similarly to energy conservation.

Becoming a more energy efficient society can deliver employment and cost savings to individuals. It’s all about getting the balance right between incentivising change and persuading people of the benefits. In order to meet targets on energy and climate change the greatest challenge will be bringing a change in perception to fruition.


What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

Don't be afraid of making mistakes; there are valuable lessons to be learned.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
It is an exciting time to get into the renewables and sustainability side of engineering and there will be an increasing number of roles both locally and internationally for those with the right skills.

I also think it is important to appreciate the value of vocational training and that industry experience can be as important as academic qualifications. This experience combined with education can be a route map for progression.

Apprenticeships are a really valuable option for anyone with an interest in engineering. They can be a way to up-skill existing staff or for individuals to gain technical and specialist knowledge that translates into employment and potentially to become employers themselves.


What do you enjoy doing outside work?
Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my wife and young family, who also teach me a lot!

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