From education to employment

Agile Leadership and Subcontracting

Patrick Tucker

I have recently been involved in a situation where I am going to bring into this article agile leadership, especially during and post COVID-19, as well as a subcontracting concern where the ESFA must support subcontractors more (Promote-ed are already in the process of compiling a report to Ministers about primes acting irresponsibly with their subcontractors, and where some of the biggest abusers of the subcontracting system seem to be the largest primes).

Owners and Senior Leaders must be responsible in their leadership and in their relationships, supply chain management is key to ensure a success of our learning & skills sector, specifically apprenticeships and AEB provision. We have spoken heavily about ethical relationships over the last few months, to me there will be a justified need to ensure we all work together for the better of our educational system as the future in the short-term will be hard, as last week it was announced that the UK’s economy shrank by 20.4% in April, which is the largest monthly contraction on record. 

Peter Drucker once said “so much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work”, it needs to be understood that we must have more humility in organisations, and to ensure we all work to the future. My research into management and leadership brings me to say that training providers need to future proof and utilise agile leadership to ensure survival, to build and lead an agile organisation, it’s crucial that senior leaders develop new mind-sets and capabilities to all within the organisation as well as supporting the supply chain in an ethical and agile way. 

I believe that the best way for providers to move forward is not by making sweeping changes and knee jerk reactions, but they need to embrace a steady, focused and persistent approach, and to also focus on looking for small wins. My research confirms that leadership and how leadership shapes an organisational culture are the biggest barriers and enablers of making a success of an agile transformation. Leaders need to understand their culture and know what beliefs are prevalent, in order to align their strategies for maximum impact to the ‘next normal’. 

In the ‘new / next normal’ organisations (providers) will need to embrace design thinking and business-model innovation to ensure success for all, when I say success for all I mean the full supply chain – learners, employers, subcontractors, economy, future generation etc. Agile Leadership is more than simply good leadership, it is good leadership that develops into great leadership trough positive change and development of all. 

There are a few areas that I am extremely critical on within our sector and the wider landscape, these are:

  • The vision of short-term thinking, especially at the expense of long-term improvement and consistent growth,
  • The focus on individual business functions, instead on the continual focus of the end user (customer), 
  • Some of the sectors approach on their own focus and not of the whole sector or the learners that sit behind their organisations, this then translating into the possibility of the government / DfE / ESFA having a set of support measures that may come with dire consequences if these support methods are used,
  • And I am very critical on poor leadership that focuses on poor practices, as an example poor Prime providers.  

To bring this thought leadership article back to subcontracting, I am aware of some large providers that are withholding significant amounts of funding, which to me has a detrimental affect on the quality of delivery to the learner, as well as ‘squeezing’ the subcontractor. One subcontractor I am aware of has informed me that they are having to make redundancies due to the Prime provider not paying them and withholding a significant amount of funding, further to this I am aware that these providers have put a ‘gagging order’ on the subcontractors whereby they have been informed that they cant disclose anything to the ESFA, press etc. The ESFA must ensure they recognise this bad practice and remove the providers from the market, the ESFA must also ensure they hold ‘active and supportive’ account management that takes place with ALL providers, and not just Main Providers. 

Promote-Ed has been created from a desire to make a difference to the education sector through promotion, the sharing of issues and campaigning for a positive change. We will do this through building a collaborative network of practitioners, who can debate openly. We have a vehicle and voice to promote both their businesses and organisations whilst ensuring that the positive work of the sector as a whole is recognised.

To that end, I welcome you to think about what organisation are you and how can you support the full supply chain for the better? Some further questions for you and your board:

  1. Is your mission statement just that, a statement that does nothing apart from look good?
  2. What are your values as an organisation and are they values you can say that you follow?
  3. What is your organisational culture and what does that say about you?
  4. Are you looking into the future?
  5. Is each SBU (Strategic Business Unit) / department / team in your organisation viewed as a value-creating unit or ‘just’ a unit?
  6. How are you going to support ALL post COVID-19?
  7. How are you going to build each person (including yourself) for a provider of the future?

Leadership lives everywhere in your organisation, therefore it is imperative to create an organisation where leadership develops and grows into a positive culture that feeds off of each other and develops into positivity for all, it is living and breathing within your organisation, it will grow and support you into the organisation that is needed for the ‘next normal’. 

I also ask you to deeply reflect and look inside of your organisation to ensure your provider supports an ethical relationship stance and one that supports the full supply chain, post COVID-19 there will be no room for organisations that only think about themselves, I will be working closely to ensure the removal of bad / poor Primes from the sector. I started my career in this sector by being trained by always putting the learner at the very heart of what is done, Primes that ‘starve’ subcontractors of funding clearly do not do this and will suffer in the ‘next normal’.

My next thought leadership article will focus on operational improvements – Kaizen and Continuous Improvement, and how this can support and shape a provider for the future. 

Patrick Tucker, Discuss in the Promote-Ed Forums

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