‘A community asset, providing people with the pathway to employment’

Oct 17, 2020

Dr Julie Mills, chief executive and group principal at Milton Keynes College.

FOR three decades, Dr Julie Mills OBE has been a driving force for education in Milton Keynes. 

In the year that she celebrates her 30th anniversary, Julie discusses how Milton Keynes is an educational test bed, her ongoing commitment to social justice and equality and how the college is spearheading a drive to create – and sustain – the city’s future talent pool.  

Throughout her tenure at Milton Keynes College, Julie has endured funding squeezes, largely due to successive governments being ambiguous to the role FE colleges play in society.

Significantly, this tide may now be turning.

Julie Mills is also a director of Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership

With a government White Paper on the future of the FE sector due this autumn and expected to highlight the importance of technical education to productivity, now is the time to shine a light on further education and, in particular, the Institute of Technology that has just welcomed its first students.

Cultivating the local economy has been integral to the success of Milton Keynes College and has driven the syllabus, says Julie.

“We, the college, are a community asset, providing people with the best possible pathway to employment while working with Milton Keynes employers to keep this talent within Milton Keynes.” 

The lecturers and staff Julie employs are passionate about their areas of expertise. Most have a vocational background, she says, and, as a result, employer engagement has taken on a whole new level over recent years with strong industry links forged offering the best possible experience for students. 

Testament to this ethos is the launch of initiatives such as The Claire Clark Academy, which is developing the next generation of pastry chefs at its centre of patisserie excellence on the college’s Bletchley campus, and the elite football programme.

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The latest innovation led by the college is the Institute of Technology which encompasses the needs of a city underpinned by innovation and technology and touches on a personal note for Julie closer to home. “My mother was a primary school teacher, while my father was an engineer, so the IoT is very special to me.”

September saw the first cohort of students on the IoT course, which was brought to fruition by Julie and her team at the college with a consortium of national employers including Microsoft, KPMG, and McAfee. 

Attracting the attention of the Department of Education, Milton Keynes College was one of only nine colleges to win bids for institutes,  worth £28 million. 

“Milton Keynes has more jobs than young people,” says Julie. “We need to ensure a steady stream of talent and get them to a higher level, particular as the economy begins its post Brexit and pandemic recovery.”

Young people and the need to set them on the right pathway remains a driving force for Julie. At a time when apprentices have been hit hard as a result of the pandemic, the college’s close links with local and national employers including Red Bull Racing and Anglian Water has ensured that apprentice pathways have been sustained.

“Apprenticeships and the development of the provision within the college has been a huge achievement for me,” she says.

However, it is not just the young. Harnessing and maximising a person’s talent regardless of their age, race, culture, or background ultimately underpins the college’s and – more to the point – Julie’s motivations.

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As a result of masterminding a bid for a contract with the Ministry of Justice to provide offender learning in multiple prisons around the country, Milton Keynes College has helped more than 700 offenders into employment since 2015. 

As a key figurehead within the city, Julie has also been instrumental in shining a light on women, and uncovering hidden female talent through Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership, of which she is a director, and her position as chair of Women Leaders.

“The narrative has not actually changed in 30 years,” she says. “We are, as we always have, striving to make our educational offering inclusive to all. However, we are now creating a culture where every single micro-decision made is all-encompassing. We now want to become an attractive career choice to people, an employer of choice.”  

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