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How can FE providers effectively communicate with minority groups?

Widening participation has increasingly become a critical theme for FE providers, with most organisations facing challenging operational and marketing targets to broaden the scope and diversity of the communities they serve, including Black and Minority Ethnic (BMEs) groups, disabled people and the over 50s.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 11.3 per cent of people in the UK are from ethnic minorities and 19 per cent of the working population are disabled. Add to this an aging population and it’s clear to see why organisations cannot ignore minority groups.

Yet, before any sort of communications campaign is embarked on, it’s essential to ‘know your audience’ and understand their characteristics and culture.

Blackburn-based training provider, Training 2000 uses the annual ‘Adult Learners’ Week’ to engage with its diverse local community. Training 2000’s Marketing Manager Lorraine Hinchcliffe comments: “Within Lancashire we have a large ethnic population, therefore it is important for us to ensure that we are communicating our learning opportunities effectively to all local groups.

“As a part of Adult Learners’ Week activities we focus on raising awareness of the adult learning programmes we have on offer. This has been achieved through running a series of free workshops at our different sites or larger events at one of our main sites, ensuring that we make the events as accessible as possible.

“For the minority groups we target, our adult learning team has found that a face-to-face approach is definitely the preferred method of communication. By inviting people to come and see us they feel involved and are more likely to return having found out first-hand what we have to offer.

“Within the organisation we also host an equality and diversity group which works together on initiatives to promote our corporate values to the local community. We have recently been involved with creating and sponsoring local football teams and are looking at the possibility of supporting three teams including a ladies team, an Asian team and a disabled team that are competing in the local league.”

Training 2000 demonstrates how an in-depth knowledge of the target audience enables successful links to be created with minority groups, developing positive relationships and outcomes.

It is important to recognise the intricacies of communicating with different minority groups and to understand that a broad-brush approach isn’t going to get the results you’re looking for and it can actually have a negative impact.

The Government’s ‘Fire Kills’ campaign is a national fire safety campaign delivered by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The campaign aims to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by accidental household fires by actively encouraging people to change their behaviour and attitudes towards fire safety. As part of its 2008-2009 campaign, different executions were created to communicate with a diverse range of ethnic groups.

For the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities, a campaign was created focusing on the impact of fire on a member of their family as it was recognised that the audience reacted to shock tactics.

The UK’s Polish community was targeted by using a respected London born firefighter who has made many TV and radio appearances in Poland. His image was used on posters, leaflets and banner stands at Polish job-fairs and Saturday schools across the country.

The Somali campaign was based around the need to educate the community about the potential dangers of cooking indoors, as their cullture favours cooking al fresco. As a vocal community the Somali campaign was centered around a different communication channel incorporating a poetry tour and a televised docu-drama.

So what can the FE sector learn from such approaches? Here are some pointers on how colleges and providers can incorporate this thinking into their campaigns:

  • Tailor marketing materials to appeal to different ethnic groups and if budget allows produce bespoke materials for different audiences. This is easily achieveable if your preferred method of communication is through e-based channels

  • Consider the use of illustrations or credible advocates who are well known to the audience within materials produced

  • Remember not to stereotype. Don’t assume something will work or appeal to a minority group, check your facts and do your homework. Focus groups work well to provide opinion and feedback on a creative plan and can provide valuable insights to ensure messages are clear and understood

  • Ask your audiences how they want to be communicated with. Consider the use of different communication channels. Written communication will have to be tailored specifically to the audience whether this be in a different language, larger text or transformed into an audio format. If this is the case, imagery or visual communication channels may better serve the purpose

Without a doubt the UK is becoming increasingly diverse. By taking into account the nuances of different groups, the FE sector will move towards its goal of widening participation and ensuring equality of opportunity across all sectors of the community.

Angela Smith is managing director of The Write Angle, a PR and marketing agency that possesses strong links with the training and education sector, with clients including the National Apprenticeship Service, Business Link and a range of FE providers

Read other FE News articles by Angela Smith:

How can FE providers effectively communicate with NEET young people?

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