From education to employment

If it thinks it can’t get the staff today, FE needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

Amarjit Basi, Executive Member, Black FE Leadership Group

The Office for National Statistics (@ONS) recently reported that job vacancies in the UK have risen above 1 million for the first time since records began two decades ago, and nearly 250,000 above the pre-pandemic position.

Suddenly the rhetoric of the “fight for talent” has become a reality for government, policy-planners and businesses alike, with Further Education positively spotlighted, both as skills enabler and employer in its own right.

Alongside positioning “skills and training” front and centre within the Post-Pandemic Recovery, it also reinforces the fact that all parts of the UK will become increasingly ethnically diverse during the Post-Brexit era.

Research from the University of Leeds confirms that those areas that comprise a significant *Black population now, will become even more diverse, and those areas not presently, will increasingly become so. Black young people account for 20% of those aged 24 or under now; they will account for one in three of that age group by 2051. Closer to home, Black students currently account for 30% of all students in FE colleges, and this will only grow.

This provides a wonderful platform for the FE system to become indispensable in delivering the ‘building back better’ and ‘levelling up’ agendas. However, FE’s track-record in harnessing black talent across its own workforce, is dismal. Presently, only 19 of 234 College CEOs is black (8%). To reflect the national population (based on the 2011 Census), this should number 32 and to reflect the student population, this would be 70. The position is even more depressing if we consider Governance. Only 7 College Chairs are black (3%).

It was this very scenario that inspired the Black FE Leadership Group (BFELG) to initiate a “critical conversation” with the FE sector’s leading group of search and recruitment companies, AOC Services, FE Associates, Morgan Hunt, Peridot Partners and Protocol, almost a year ago.

Inspired and challenged by our 10 Point Plan, all partners have spent the last 12 months developing a collective commitment towards ensuring anti-racist recruitment practices are implemented across their activities as a matter of course. This has culminated in the publication of our ‘Joint Statement to support Anti-racist and diverse recruitment practices in the FE Sector’.

Whilst individual partners’ starting positions, understanding and confidence in engaging on our shared journey has been far from linear, our collective recognition for the need to elevate above historical mistrust, self-interest and diffusion of responsibility, has prevailed. We have openly challenged, exchanged experiences and grown together, moved by a shared resolve that FE must do more and better.

Our Joint Statement presents a set of progressive and clear commitments by the leading FE search companies, to their clients, candidates and the wider FE workforce, leadership and governance communities.

The next step for our collaborative partnership is the development of individual company action plans which will proactively address imbalances in diversity of leadership at all levels. New thinking and alliances are positively emerging as a result. For instance, BFELG has recently constituted a HR Directors Network, part of our affiliated organisation model, to bring together leading college practitioners to share and exchange practice focused on addressing the disparities in black staff at all levels.

The ‘elephant in the room’ remains the need for FE corporations and other system players to step up to the plate, as employers.

If FE doesn’t get its own house in order, how can it hope to credibly advise on, and respond to, the talent crisis facing UK plc?

Amarjit Basi, Executive Member, Black FE Leadership Group

*‘Black’ is an inclusive definition for people from ethnically diverse backgrounds who share a lived experience of the effects of racism.

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