Colleges do need to move away from government state funding and more innovation is needed. However innovation must be able to be commercialised. There is no shortage of creativity or great ideas but innovations have no value unless they can be translated into something a customer wants. We need more successful business models that work. Successful business models facilitate job creation, which provides employment opportunities for young people. Looking solely to the government to create more jobs is unwise. FE colleges can lead change on a local level and play a pivotal role in job creation for young people.
Despite difficult economic times interest in social investing has never been stronger. Spurred on by TV programmes such as the Secret Millionaire, affluent individuals are increasingly looking to give back and make a difference in their communities. The question is; Who are the leaders in your local community with influence? Many want to improve their communities but don't know how. These leaders with influence include retired business people, SMEs, institutions, successful local personalities and prominent families. These people have the right networks and could bring about significant change working collectively. They also have the ability to get things done and their mentorship would be invaluable to young people. The activity of identifying key influential people alone would form an interesting research project for students.
Some colleges, Bournemouth College being one example, have already developed this kind of thinking and have set up an Employability Advisory Board of local business people. The Board works closely with the college and the students and endorses courses they run. An external network of business mentors that works with both students and staff also supports the college. Whilst Employability Advisory Boards provide an important function, could the support of these Boards be leveraged to facilitate the development of social enterprises in the local communities FE colleges serve and create employment opportunities for young people?
Social enterprise, Create® has been one organisation which has benefited from donations in both cash and kind from a variety of individuals to be able to help lots of homeless and disadvantaged people. Last August, Create's flagship restaurant opened in the heart of Leeds. The Create® restaurant is about more than just great food though. Every year they train more than 100 people who need a fresh start, helping them make the journey into a job that provides not just income, but dignity and hope. We would be on the road to a faster economic recovery if successful business models like that of Create® were replicated across the UK providing jobs for local talent.
A few years ago the local food movement emerged in an effort to build more locally based, self-reliant food economies to enhance the economic, environmental and social health of a particular place. People were encouraged to buy local produce and support their local farmers and they did. I strongly believe that communities would be willing to support and buy from social enterprises that offered young people employment opportunities in their local area provided they were also happy with their products and services.
So yes, FE colleges can lead the way to job creation to an extent. They can exert their influence to direct local leadership and harness the entrepreneurial spirit of students with some mentorship to create successful business models. Such efforts could actually start to lift the unemployment blanket smothering so many of our communities in 2012.
Genevieve Knight is the head of training and development at MYPAL Ltd, author of Get the Skills Employers Want, and founder of the Student Career Bootcamp
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