As I’ve been reaching out to a number of leaders in Further Education over the last few months, I’ve been struck by a couple of things that all seem to have in common.
- Firstly, the effort and resource that has gone into operational planning since March has been monumental and, I would add, very impressive.
- Secondly, it is clear that as the dust settles somewhat, these principals are primed and ready to play a key role in a skills-led recovery in their area.
The operational efforts that have been a real focus for everyone over these last few weeks have been unprecedented. I remember from my years working in the sector, even during some pretty significant capital developments, that by and large relevant internal experts were left to get on with it.
In my recent conversations however, FE leaders have consistently told me about the need (and personal desire) to be heavily involved in operational matters, such as room timetabling, since these matters are so all-encompassing at the present time. Indeed, as one sector leader mused, this will be “an “interesting test of sector leadership” and that perhaps those who have traditionally “divorced strategy wholly from operations may well suffer.” One to keep an eye on.
When it comes to longer term operations, as well as working out how to operate the “usual” provision in unusual times, there is the question of how to deal with displaced, unemployed adults. There are undoubtedly challenges here for the sector, not least in awaiting further clarity on any specific additional reskilling / retraining monies that may become available.
Yet there is also a real and profound opportunity:
- Who else is going to provide the specific skills needed in order for people, businesses, labour markets and wider regional economies to be able to respond and begin to recover?
- Who else can really get a handle on local labour market dynamics – such as a region that is heavily reliant on tourism needing a different solution to one that has a large concentration of car manufacturing – and quickly implement a solution to deliver the required skills?
- Who else has the ability to connect directly with Job Centre Plus locally to provide a menu of broad employability provision and a very specific skills-led offering?
- Who else has the delivery expertise to very quickly provide provision to support skills transferability – to support people to move from one job to another locally, perhaps with targeted upskilling?
- Who else has the physical estate to enable technical delivery, to support local partnerships of providers for the ultimate betterment of local people, employers and communities?
These are all undoubtedly huge challenges, but from what I’ve seen of the impressive way so many colleges have responded to the issues before them, it seems to me that the Further Education sector has the opportunity and the ability to lead local communities both through, and out of, current difficulties.
Anthony Horne is Sales Director for the Labour Market Insight specialists, Emsi UK