Articles from Andy Durman

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Why do companies merge or collaborate? Many reasons could be given including providing a better product/service, reducing costs, increasing sales, becoming more efficient, pooling resources together, eliminating weaknesses and exploiting strengths, growing market share, and moving into new markets. Whatever the reasons – whether all of those or a mixture of some – the ultimate purpose is to produce a more efficient organisation that can attain success through better serving the needs of the customer base.

"Uniformly strong" careers guidance

In his recent address to the thinktank, CentreForum, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw raised a number of issues aimed across the full range of the education spectrum. The FE sector, as so often happens, came in for some quite heavy criticisms, particularly with regard to careers guidance:"Preparation for employment remains poor and careers guidance in both schools and colleges is uniformly weak."Uniformly weak? I think that's perhaps going a little too far – as I'll show in a moment – yet few would deny that there is a problem, especially when, as Sir Michael went on to say:"Six out of 10 firms say the skills gap is getting worse. Leading industrialists like Sir James Dyson complain that they cannot find the skilled workers their businesses need to grow."What is it that makes for weak careers guidance? I was recently speaking to a friend who has been heavily involved in the careers business for a good number of years, and he commented that the major problem with CEIAG is that it's all back to front. There's lots about "what interests you" and "what would you like to do" and "what are you good at", but very little hard facts on what careers and occupations are actually out there, and what kinds of similar alternatives exist if demand for these occupations falls. If this information is given at all, it tends to come in at the end of the process rather than from the beginning.What this means is that a lot of young people tend to have aspirations that bear almost no connection to the opportunities that are actually out there. Or they'll tend to pick the "usual suspects" – teacher, doctor, engineer etc. This was borne out by our recent work alongside City & Guilds, which looked into the careers aspirations of people aged 14-19, and found that there were some big mismatches between aspirations and reality. Could this situation be changed with some solid information and facts about demand for careers given at the start of the process, rather than as an add-on at the end?I imagine that the British astronaut, Tim Peake, has sparked a resurgence in careers advisors being told, "I want to be an astronaut". How does a careers advisor deal with that? One possibility is to play up the chances without any dose of realism: "Jonny, that's great that you want to be an astronaut. Here's what qualifications you need. Go for it. See you in space." A second possibility is to play down the chances, again without any does of realism: "Jonny, that's just not going to happen. You like travelling though? Great, have you ever thought about becoming a courier?" Okay, these are both exaggerations, but hopefully you get the picture.How about a third possibility, one where Jonny's interests, hopes and skills are channeled into something more realistic, on the basis of what the job market is likely to look like in a few years? So when Jonny comes to see the careers officer and announces his hopes of working on the International Space Station, rather than playing up to this aspiration, or doing it down, the careers adviser takes the time to find out what Jonny's interests and skills are, and then matches it to actual labour market demand. In other words, careers guidance should be all about matching aspirations with reality, and where those aspirations do not tally, walking the young person through a number of similar careers which utilise their skillset, but where there are likely to be positions when they qualify. This gives the child something tangible to work towards and in turn fuels their aspirations. And of course if it were uniformly applied, it would start to fill in all those skills gaps that so obviously need filling.I mentioned at the start that Sir Michael's characterisation of careers guidance as being "uniformly weak" was not exactly fair. There are examples of colleges that are doing great things, using the model I have set out above – facts shaping aspirations – with Ofsted itself confirming this.For instance, the careers service at Chichester College, Positive About Futures, was singled out for praise by Ofsted in their Outstanding grading of the College back in 2014:"Managers and staff provide extremely useful and pertinent information, advice and guidance to ensure learners make informed study and career choices. The 'Positive about Futures' team is particularly effective in providing detailed information on employability and labour market trends for managers and teachers to use to inform curriculum planning. Learners make very good use of an on-line resource that provides clear information about jobs and employment opportunities across the region."The careers service at Chesterfield College has likewise been praised, both by Ofsted, who noted, "particularly good information, advice and guidance ensure learners are on the appropriate programmes", and in a Matrix Assessment:"Of particular note is the creation of personalised web pages (P-URL) for all prospective students, into which individually tailored information including localised LMI has been incorporated ... This is an excellent way of presenting tailored information to prospective students, and one which was seen during the assessment to impress service users and to encourage them to explore the information further."Other examples could be cited, but what connects both the Chichester and Chesterfield approaches is that of getting solid facts and information to students and prospective students early on. By doing so, they are giving young people a far better chance of training for a career that actually exists, a far better chance of motivating young people, and a far better chance of fixing the skills gap. It can be done. It just needs a change in thinking, and a readiness to get the facts on the ground in front of young people early on in the careers process. Applied throughout the sector, we could one day hear a major public figure describing careers guidance in colleges as uniformly strong.Andy Durman is the Managing Director of Economic Modelling Specialists International UK (EMSI UK), the labour market information firm

Beyond Area Reviews: Growing the pie

If there was one vibe above all others that I picked up from this year's AoC Conference, it was of a sector that is somewhat nervous about the future, expectant of great changes to come. Although the subject of Area Reviews somewhat dominated many of the conversations I had, I got the sense that they are viewed by many colleges as a necessary evil to get through. Many of those I spoke with were looking beyond the reviews to start thinking about what the sector might look like in a year or two (those colleges that want to take a proactive approach to ensure that they are ready for their Area Review might find our free guide helpful).

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AutoNation - A Major New Report Analysing the Effects of Automation on the British Labour Market #FutureofEmployment

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Not all Labour Market Information is born equal

The phrase Labour Market Information (LMI) is perhaps not the sort of phrase that is likely to get people excited. In fact, I can well imagine that in the ears of many it probably sounds rather dull. For me, however, I am hugely excited about the possibilities that LMI has to really make big changes to colleges, to local economies and above all to the lives of individual people.Does that sound over the top? I don't believe it is, and I have seen numerous examples of colleges that have used LMI to make massive differences to the people they serve: LMI used to improve curriculum planning; LMI used for better employer engagement; LMI used to give direction and vision to students and prospective students; LMI used to measure the great value that colleges bring to the local economy; and even LMI used to make Ofsted happy – ultimately LMI can be used as a primer to bridge the gap between student perceptions and labour market realities. These are things you all care about, and so even though the phrase "Labour Market Information" might not necessarily float your boat, the applications and opportunities that LMI can bring to your college, your local economy, and to your students probably do.My passion for LMI then is not so much a passion for data, but a desire to see colleges use data in order to become what Suzanne Duncan described here as "economic dynamos in the heart of their community". What does she mean by that?For LMI to really help you, it obviously needs to give you an accurate picture of what is going on in your local labour market. This is not actually as simple as it sounds. The raw data that comes from government sources is actually full of "holes", and it is notoriously difficult to find out what is actually going on in those "holes" – that is at the specific industry and occupation levels. This may not be something you've considered before, but I think that as LMI has become such an integral part of colleges in recent years, it is worth spending a few moments thinking about how this works, and why it is so important.Let me give you an illustration that you can hopefully relate to.Imagine that you were the owner of a shop, and you wanted to find out the trends for fruit and vegetable sales, both in terms of total sales and all the way down to individual varieties. In order to achieve your aim, you create four categories, beginning with the umbrella "Fruit & Veg" category at the top, which is then split into two subsections, one for "Fruit" and one for "Veg", followed by a third category, "Fruit Types" and "Veg Types", and finally a fourth level – "Varieties" – which goes right down to specific varieties of particular types of fruit and vegetable.You decide that you want to find out how different varieties of apples have been doing over the past ten weeks, in order to plan more effectively in the future, and so you allocate the task of finding this information out to your deputy manager. Off he goes and quickly works out the total of "Fruit & Veg" sales, as well as the breakdown between "Fruit" and "Veg". However, when he attempts to find out the more specific details of types and varieties, it becomes apparent to him that this is going to involve an awful lot more time and effort than he spent finding out the previous categories. So he decides to cut some of that work out by taking the sales trend for "Fruit" – the second category of specificity – and applying it to all the individual types of fruit and to all the individual varieties.When he gives you the results, you are initially pleased to see that sales of Braeburns went up by 3% over the ten week period. However, when you come to the figure for Jazz, Cox, and Granny Smiths, you are surprised to find out that they also apparently grew at 3% as well. This seems highly unlikely to you, and so to test your doubts you go through the same exercise yourself, but this time being far more thorough in your methodology than your deputy.As you complete the exercise, your suspicions are confirmed. Whereas "Fruit" did indeed grow by 3%, apples themselves only rose by 2% overall, and as for apple varieties, Granny Smith sales increased by 10%, Cox by 7%, Jazz by 1%, and Braeburns actually fell by 10%. Needless to say, you are not exactly best pleased with your deputy, but thankful that you discovered the error before it cost you a lot of money in waste from over ordering and missed opportunity.What has this got to do with Labour Market Information? Well, LMI actually works on a remarkably similar basis to the story mentioned above. Just as there were four categories in the illustration, so with LMI there are four distinct Standard Industry Classifications (SIC) and four distinct Standard Occupation Classifications (SOC). SIC and SOC 1 are the equivalent of the overarching "Fruit & Veg" category and include general categories of industries and occupations such as Manufacturing and Professional Occupations. Underneath these categories there are increasing levels of specificity, with SIC 2 and SOC 2 being at the "Fruit" level, SIC and SOC 3 at the "Type" level, and finally SIC and SOC 4 being at the most specific "Variety" level.Just as in the illustration, finding out the data at the first two levels is a fairly simple exercise. However, when you get down to the more specific categories – SIC 3 and 4, and SOC 3 and 4 – things are far more complex because – as mentioned above – there are "holes" in the data. In fact, it is so complex that we needed several years of research, plus the work of a team of expert economists, before we had a methodology that we could confidently go to colleges and claim was accurate and robust!Why was it so important to go to all that trouble? For the same reason that a shop owner wanting to know the sales of individual varieties needs to go to a lot of trouble: because taking the figures at the 2-digit SIC or SOC level and assuming that the industries or categories beneath them could well see you coming up with the same kinds of wrong answers that the deputy in the shop example came up with.Let's take an example. According to the SOC classification system, Veterinary nurses is a 4-digit occupation and it comes under the SOC 2 level Caring Personal Service Occupations. But also under Caring Personal Service Occupations are a variety of disparate occupations including Teaching Assistants, Pest Control Officers, Care escorts and Undertakers. Now just as you would have been suspicious to find out that all varieties of apples grew at the same rate, so you would probably be suspicious if we gave you data suggesting that Veterinary nurses are growing at the same rate as Teaching Assistants, Pest Control Officers, Care escorts and Undertakers. I mean, I know that economies are interconnected, but they're not that interconnected! In reality, each of these occupations has some quite different economic drivers affecting them.Just to put a few figures to this, Caring Personal Service Occupations in Lancashire, for instance, grew by 18% over the past five years. However, underneath this "Fruit" level, down in the "Variety" level, Veterinary nurses actually grew by 37% and Teaching Assistants by 16%, whilst Pest Control Officers, Care escorts and Undertakers actually fell by 7%, 14% and 2% respectively.Do you see the importance of this? If we were to take the same kind of approach to finding out LMI at the 3 and 4 digit levels as the deputy in the shop did to finding out the "Types" and Varieties", we would end up giving you data that could very well end up leaving you with an impression about an industry or occupation that is the exact opposite of what is really happening. I hardly need to tell you that this could end up being costly for your organisation, if you were to base decision making around it.As I mentioned at the start of this article, Labour Market Information, as such, is unlikely to get everyone in the FE sector excited, yet its applications and opportunities probably will. But as someone who has been involved for years in helping colleges use LMI to open up these opportunities, and has seen first-hand both the benefits of using data with robust methodology and the drawbacks of using data without such a robust methodology, I have felt for some time that it would be good to try to help the sector better understand some of the complex issues involved. I hope this piece has given you some insight into this, and that it has helped you understand a little better the importance of using the best available data and not just what is to hand, irrespective of its quality.

Reflections from AoC 2014

If you were to ask me what I associate with the month of November, high up on the list would be the AoC Conference in Birmingham, which has become a regular fixture in my calendar. This year was my 8th or 9th conference (I think!) and although I should probably resist the temptation to deal in clichés, I find I can't help myself: It really does seem to come around sooner every year, and before anyone offers a reason why that might be, I am well aware that the speed with which it returns is no doubt directly proportional to the number of birthdays I have had!For me AoC is a good time to catch up with customers, many of whom have become good friends over the years. I also find it a good opportunity to take the temperature of the FE sector, to find out what people are thinking and where things are going, both from individual conversations and from the breakout sessions.Everyone who attended the show will have come away with their own impressions, and much of what sticks in our minds will have been informed by our particular area of interest or expertise. For me, as someone who has for years been involved in helping colleges better understand and utilise Labour Market Information, there were four major takeaways from this year's conference:  1.   Ofsted's new inspection framework for September 2015  2.   UKCES Employer Perceptions Survey 2014  3.   The Mindset's Student Employability Toolkit  4.   The role of FE colleges in delivering higher level skills to meet emerging needs in local economiesOfstedIn their breakout session, "A new inspection framework for September 2015", Ofsted fleshed out the details of their current consultation, "Better Inspections for All". The main proposals centre around the introduction of more frequent but shorter inspections for good schools and further education and skills providers, the idea being that such institutions should be encouraged to sustain their progress, rather than being allowed to falter.A big emphasis of the new framework will be on curriculum, and in particular, "the relevance of courses and training in further education and skills," and the "suitability of the curriculum and the type and range of courses and opportunities offered by providers." Furthermore, inspectors are going to be looking for colleges to demonstrate that they:

Closing the skills gap in London and beyond

London is suffering from a skills gap that is getting ever wider, according to reports citing the evidence presented to an All Party Parliamentary Small Business Group, which is seeking to "further the aims of small businesses and provide feedback on small business issues to Parliament".In evidence given by Councillor Peter John, London Councils' executive member for children, skills and employment, the Group were told that the current skills system is broken and needs a radical overhaul. He honed in on three particular areas that he said were fuelling the gap and which meant that Londoners were losing out on jobs whilst firms were finding it hard to find skilled workers: a lack of local influence, a flawed system of incentives for skills providers and poor Labour Market Information (LMI):"The skills system, as it stands, is not fit for purpose," he said. "There is a disconnect between the skills London is producing and the skills businesses, especially small businesses, need. Too much funding is being wasted on courses that employers do not need or want such as hair and beauty, car mechanics or health and safety... We need to address this urgently if we are to avoid producing a generation of Londoners unprepared for the labour market."So the skills gap is clearly a massive problem – not just in London but throughout the country – but the question is how can it be tackled?As Mr John said, poor LMI is a big factor in all this. The problem, at its most basic, can be summed up as lack of knowledge: lack of knowledge of what is going on in the local labour market; lack of knowledge of the skills needs of local industries; and lack of knowledge of what steps can be taken to harmonise the training being given to learners with the needs of employers.There are two major parts to this lack of knowledge, both of which must be addressed in order to begin closing the skills gap. On one side, the problem of lack of knowledge is very much a college problem. The simple truth is that many colleges simply do not have the detailed knowledge of their local labour market to enable them to make informed decisions about what that local economy needs from them. As Mr John rightly points out, this can lead to people being trained for occupations for which there is little or no demand.

Addressing the workforce of the future: How can we prepare for it now? #FutureofWork

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