COLEG CAMBRIA begins the decade with a new chief executive who plans to take the award-winning institution “to the next level”.
Yana Williams has a long-term vision for the north east Wales college and will build on the foundations laid by predecessor David Jones OBE.
The former CEO/Principal of Hugh Baird College in Liverpool vowed to put students at the heart of every decision and unite communities and industry behind a fresh strategy that will make Cambria “even more innovative” in the future.
Ms Williams was both a student and manager at the former Deeside College – which merged with Yale College in Wrexham to form Coleg Cambria in 2013 – and looks forward to the journey ahead.
“I have always followed the college’s progress, so I’m pleased to see how it’s grown and am delighted to be back,” said Ms Williams, originally from Mold.
“We have a real opportunity to become the best college in the UK; Cambria is established and respected, the links and partnerships are already in place and we have a fantastic reputation.
“Together we can develop that potential across all of our sites and be the ‘can-do’ college for our communities, for industry, and most importantly, for our students.”
Her first task will be to begin developing a strategy for the future, embracing technology and looking at modern ways of working that reflect today’s society while “future-proofing” the organisation.
“We will anticipate how trends and industries change so that we are at the forefront of advances, that’s what top colleges do,” said Ms Williams.
“One of the biggest shifts, I believe, will be in adult learning. People are working longer and so many over the age of 50 may need additional support in their digital understanding to meet the needs of future employment and be as proficient as is required for the challenges of today.”
As a teenager, Ms Williams played hockey for Wales and Great Britain before being faced with a decision over whether to pursue the sport or a career in education.
An alumnus of Cardiff Metropolitan University, she made the decision to work permanently in FE after taking a teaching post with Knowsley Community College in Liverpool.
It was there the former Mold Alun pupil began to look at the bigger picture and identify ways the institution could improve its culture and academic offering, as well as bridging the gap between education and business.
She later moved to Runshaw College in Lancashire before re-joining Deeside College in a management role, overseeing the curriculum in a wide range of areas from construction to catering.
It was then on to a Vice Principal role at Blackburn College and later Hugh Baird College, where Ms Williams made her mark as CEO/Principal.
“There are similarities between pockets of north east Wales and that area of Liverpool, where there was some deprivation and a lack of opportunities,” said Ms Williams.
“We instilled a belief in the students that they could do anything, and the college built a university centre providing the best education possible for local communities.
“Many of the learners do not see traditional university as an option. A lot of people have families or are carers, so they are not able to travel to university, but they have the talent and ability. Why should they not be given the same chances in life?
“That’s what FE should be about, getting people to the level they are capable of. By the time I left we had 600 students at the university centre and achieved TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) Gold, which makes me incredibly proud.”
That’s part of the reason Ms Williams moved from Hugh Baird and across the border to Coleg Cambria.
And she is relishing the task – taking the helm of an institution which employs up to 1,400 staff, pumping more than £400m a year into the local economy.
“Cambria is an outstanding college so we will build on its strengths and move forward into the future, but we of course have a vision – not just mine but of all of the staff – and there are exciting times ahead,” she said.
“We will work even closer with employers and our communities and make sure every qualification we deliver is linked to the private and public sectors in North Wales, so students do not have to move outside of the area to work.
“Developing a culture of innovation, responding to the needs of our learners and the Welsh Government, we aim to take Coleg Cambria to the next level, where we inspire our communities to be the best they absolutely can, by building on the incredible work that’s already been done and inspiring the students – they will always be at the centre of everything we do.”
John Clutton, chair of the Governing Body at Cambria, welcomed Ms Williams to the role.
“We are delighted Yana has joined the college and wish her every success,” said Mr Clutton.
“She will bring a wealth of experience and expertise to Cambria and ensure the ongoing success of our learners and staff as well as making a significant contribution to the economic development of our region.”