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Worst staffing crisis in two decades in England’s colleges – Sector response

Kirsti Lord, Deputy Chief Executive, AoC

New findings today (4 Mar) highlight a staffing crisis in England’s colleges which risks stunting the economy and halting any chance the government has of truly levelling up the country.

Association of Colleges – the national voice for colleges – surveyed its members with some worrying findings.

Association of Colleges is pushing for government to work with the sector so that colleges can pay their staff better and support them with their development.

As it stands, teachers in schools are currently paid over £9,000 more than college lectures on average, despite many college lecturers being more specialist and having brought real-life industry experience to their roles.

Recent ONS data (December 2021) showed that:

  • Private sector pay has increased by 5.4%
  • Public sector pay has increased by 2.5%
  • Education sector pay has increased by 0.3% (with most of that landing outside of further education)

There is now estimated to be more than 6,000 job vacancies in England’s colleges – the most there has been in over two decades – with high levels of persistent vacancies in priority areas such as construction, engineering, health and social care and science and maths.

The AoC report, ‘College Staffing Challenges in 2022’ calls for a concerted national push to tackle the recruitment and retention problem before it worsens.

AoC is calling on the government to:

  • Take important short-term actions, including adjustments to the 2021-2 adult education performance rules and providing sufficient flexibility in 16-18 funding for 2022-3
  • Commit to concerted action on whole college funding including funding increases and reform, action to reduce external bureaucracy and improvements to teacher training routes.

Kirsti Lord, Deputy Chief Executive, Association of Colleges said:

“The issue for colleges around recruiting and retaining staff has been building for some time, it is a symptom of the decision to freeze or reduce colleges funding for over a decade and has left the sector struggling to keep pace on pay. In relation to schools, college pay doesn’t even come close and when potential staff can earn far more in their specific industry it makes it increasingly difficult for colleges to attract the people they desperately need.

“FE recruitment campaigns are extremely welcome, but a long-term solution is required if colleges are to be able to deliver on the government’s skills and levelling up agenda. Colleges stand ready to do everything they can to support people to get the education and training they need – they can only do that with the funding to enable them to keep up with other sectors.” 

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“This report exposes the lack of government support and commitment to colleges. Lower funding rates have greatly affected a sector which has many types of provision and learner ages. Most crucially, the report shows that recruitment of college staff is now in crisis with 6,000 vacancies in key areas of T Level provision – Construction, Engineering, and Child Care. Low funding has also distorted college management, lecturer and support roles, with many duties now ‘hidden’ under hybrid roles.

“The key conclusion is that government needs to provide the funding to enable them to commit to meaningful increases in staff pay. The report puts the government on notice that skills, T Levels, and the ‘levelling up‘ agenda will fail unless it quickly improves its attitude to college funding and urgently changes course. This is essential reading for Boris Johnson, Nadhim Zahawi and Michael Gove.”

Sak Awan, Director of Employability and Skills, S Knights Recruitment said:

“The severity of the recruitment challenge only deepens when you think of the addition of Independent Training Providers, Employability Providers and EPAO’s looking for the same vocationally competent and qualified staff. 

“I applaud the government in the amount of provision, funding and initiatives it has committed to the Employability & Skills agenda, but agree whole heartedly agree with the AoC’s recommendation of “Commit to concerted action on whole college funding including funding increases and reform, action to reduce external bureaucracy and improvements to teacher training routes.”

“With the only addition being not restricting it to colleges, but also extending that relief and support to ITP’s too. We need a more strategic, joined up and policy led approach would provide a sustainable solution to a sector wide challenge.”

Luke O’Neill, Education Director, Morgan Hunt, a leading staffing supplier to the Further Education sector

Luke O’Neill, Education Strategy Director, Morgan Hunt said:

“The current challenges of recruiting staff in the FE sector has been building up for many years. Those who work in and provide staffing solutions to the FE sector like Morgan Hunt will continue to promote the many incredibly rewarding benefits of working for great institutions like Colleges, along with trying to offer innovative solutions and campaigns, such as retention bonuses, referral fees, flexible working where possible and proactively targeting industries to promote careers in Lecturing, to find the right candidates for their many vacancies.

“However, unless the funding situation is addressed and Colleges can offer competitive salaries, for Teaching staff in particular compared to Schools and certain industries, there will continue to be struggles to recruit and retain staff.

“With Further Education Colleges being so crucial in training and upskilling workers for key growth industries in the UK such as Construction, Engineering, IT, Digital and Healthcare, the impact of staff shortages in Colleges now, will be long lasting unless action is taken.”

Spencer Mehlman – Founder & MD of The National Skills Agency

Spencer Mehlman, Managing Director, National Skills Agency, said:

“This report seems to accurately reflect the current struggles in the FE Market.
As the specialist recruiter in Apprenticeships and FE we have seen the challenges the sector is facing first-hand. We currently have over 200 vacancies to fill and new roles coming in every day.

“We have also created a specialist college recruitment team and all our consultants have worked in the college environment and have a strong appreciation of the market. There is clearly a massive shortage of talent across the market and if FE is going to compete with independent training providers there must be a significant shift in approach.

“Retaining your people is also key. Losing a talented team member causes more than just a vacancy. It takes time and energy to replace them. Often their workload is shared by the existing team before a new person is fully up to speed. This can affect the general morale and sets the wrong tone. Their loss can also impact client relationships and have bigger implications if the transition isn’t as seamless as possible.”

Matt Atkinson is Joint Managing Director of FE Associates

Matt Atkinson, Managing Director of FEA said:

“Nearly every interaction we have with our clients usually ends up in a discussion around the current staffing crisis in FE and the AoC are absolutely right to bring this crucial issue to the fore. They are also right to call on government to fund the sector at a level that would enable providers to reward and pay staff at market appropriate levels. However, the likelihood of providers being able to compete properly for highly skilled workers in engineering, construction, digital and tech is not particularly high, and to pay salaries in line with what these individuals can earn in the private sector is not realistic.

“Therefore, perhaps the time has come for sector employers to radically rethink the nature of employment and working models and to look at developing approaches that will make the recruitment and retention of highly skilled staff in shortage areas a more realistic possibility.  

“Collaborative employment models where non-competing providers share staff and offer higher salaries along with working practices rooted in flexibility are just a couple of ideas worthy of serious consideration. The pandemic has had a significant impact on the labour market and all employers are now having to think creatively and innovatively about employment practices, now may be the time for FE providers to do the same.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

“FE teachers are needed across many subject areas. That is why we have launched a national campaign to encourage industry professionals, particularly those in priority sectors such as construction and engineering, to teach in FE. This is a part of our wider FE workforce reforms set out in the Skills for Jobs White Paper.

“We will be investing an extra £1.6 billion in 16-19 education and training by 2024-25 compared with 2021-22 financial year, which includes funding for colleges. This includes an up-front cash boost which will see the rate of funding per student boosted by over 8% in 2022/23.”

Key findings

The report, which had responses from 48% of all colleges, found that:

  • The average number of vacancies per college was 30, with one reporting 162 vacancies
  • 1,853 vacancies were in support areas, with high levels of persistent vacancies in learning support roles, student services and facilities and estates roles
  • 96% of respondents report that the current level of vacancies is creating increased pressure on existing staff
  • 61% said that vacancies were having a significant impact on the amount they are having to spend on agency fees.

The recruitment and retention crisis in colleges has also been exacerbated by a decade of cuts, and endless reform.

Though there have been recent announcements of new funding for the sector (often offset by cuts and new financial burdens), the varied nature of courses and provision offered at FE colleges, means that a cash injection in one area (16-18) does not necessarily lead to stable financial health overall, given many colleges cater for everything from level 1 to higher education students.

Funding to teach adult learners has not increased for 13 years, despite huge increases in costs. This is especially important because AoC data shows that the average age of a student in a college is 28.

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Employability, Work and leadership, Social impact, Featured voices

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Responses

  1. Do colleges have any scope to adjust (lighten!) internal admin demands on lecturers as a means of aiding recruitment and retention: Sorry, applicants, there isn’t any additional funding in at least the next two years – but we guarantee you won’t be sat at your desk, laptop, or home computer for the long hours we expected in 2021?

    Neil Richardson
    Kirkheaton

  2. This report seems to accurately reflect the current struggles in the FE Market.
    As the specialist recruiter in Apprenticeships and FE we have seen the challenges the sector is facing first-hand. We currently have over 200 vacancies to fill and new roles coming in every day.
    We have also created a specialist college recruitment team and all our consultants have worked in the college environment and have a strong appreciation of the market.
    There is clearly a massive shortage of talent across the market and if FE is going to compete with independent training providers there must be a significant shift in approach.
    I have put together some key points for colleges to consider.
     Start the process as early as possible, be ahead of the game
     Be as flexible as you can re hybrid or remote working
     Put together a detailed spec ensuring it outlines all the benefits, the culture, targets, etc
     Check out Glass Door- it is worth seeing how your organisation is perceived
     Try to make the interview process as short as possible. When the process stretches to 3 or 4 interviews, or the time frame drags into 3-4 weeks you are very likely to lose the candidate!
     In the current market candidates often have 2-3 interviews underway and may have several offers to choose from. If you take too long or make the process to painful the chances, are you will be starting the hiring process again
     Ensure your salaries and benefits are in line with the market, there is still quite a lot of disparity. Those who are paying at the lower end of the market are seeing a steady stream of resignations
     If you make an offer, get the paperwork/email out ASAP
     Cultural fit is important – can they meet team members and get a tour of the offices

    Retaining your people is also key.
    Losing a talented team member causes more than just a vacancy. It takes time and energy to replace them. Often their workload is shared by the existing team before a new person is fully up to speed. This can affect the general morale and sets the wrong tone. Their loss can also impact client relationships and have bigger implications if the transition isn’t as seamless as possible.

    A few thoughts on retention but worth re-iterating:

     Regular reviews
     Sensible targets
     Team events
     Recognise employee’s hard work
     Upgrade your equipment where possible
     Flexible approach to working schedules
     Professional development opportunities
     Promote from within if possible
     Good communication and collaboration

    Spencer Mehlman, Managing Director, National Skills Agency