Has this happened all of a sudden? Now I hear the concerns that we don't have enough young people to fill the demand from business. I suppose that is good? Good for the young people that have the attitude and skills that makes them employable.
Further Education is a match-maker, a place where skills are matched to the demands of employers. This requires a deep understanding of the local needs and also the brand that attracts young people. Proving you are that place that does all that is the tough bit.
So, scarcity of anything creates innovation, and that innovation can be the making of a huge transformation in a College. I am so impressed with the way some of the FE Colleges and Providers are achieving this, but, sadly perhaps not all, as the drive to innovate and the speed required is very tough for many.
How do we reach out to young people? Where do they spend their time and who do they listen to? You are the experts at this. The challenge seems to be that learners now have so much choice. The explosion of private training providers has meant that FE has to complete on its own patch...the rise of University Tech Colleges and Studio Schools. All of these options make it hard for parents and their children to decide where to build the skills that will get them into employment. Who do they trust?
In June 2014, Digital Youth Academy conducted a study of the online engagement that the FE Sector achieves and we were thrilled to see that 95% of FE Colleges have a Twitter account. The average number of Twitter Followers per FE College was 2,115. Cornwall College led the way with the most Followers at 9,198. It is hard to know the type of Follower, but I do know that some teachers also have their own accounts and share knowledge with students that way.
Looking at LinkedIn, (I guess for employer engagement) it was also high with 83% of FE Colleges having a LinkedIn company page account. The average number of connections per FE College was 394. Loughborough College led the way with the most connections at 4,089.
Facebook intrigues me; this is about sharing information and being a friend and we could only measure the Facebook Pages (we couldn't look up every person in a College and assume that their connections were for the College). We found that 98% of FE Colleges have a Facebook page. The average number of Facebook Likes per FE College was 3,421. The Marine Society College of the Sea led the way with the most likes with over 30,000 – a niche subject with a good 'fan' base.
The important aspect of being 'social' online is that you chat! A weird thought for most businesses and institutions that use it more as a notice board. So we looked at the Klout Scores to see what 'influence' the social interactions were having. Klout scores out of 100, only 20 Colleges achieved a Klout Score of over 55. Newbury College clearly led the way as the top with a Klout Score of 78.
You can check your score at www.klout.com, just link up your networks and it will score you.
So, when scarcity happens, when anyone that needs to achieve revenue has a challenge, then we seek to do things differently not do the same things and work harder at them.
The local community wants skills, these members of the community want to trust the best place to get those skills and they will go with who engages best, builds trust and has empathy to this new world and where they sit within it.
I would love to see the social engagement of FE grow online, and it needs to be in a way that really serves the community, not in a way that serves them; transactional, one-way communication is no different to me only having a mouth and never listening. It is also about everyone being 'in the pub', everyone chatting and sharing knowledge, it is not about two people in marketing putting up events and sharing news.
Can I ask you to try one thing out this month? Build a Twitter list of SMEs in your local area and listen to them, talk to them about what they want to chat about, be their friend and then perhaps, they will want to be your friend. Wait for them to ask you a question and then you have permission to share your passion and skills – and then the magic happens. Easy really!
In my quest to both understand and simulate more views and opinions I spoke to Cailean Hargrave about his thoughts on learner engagement. Cailean is the Further and Higher Education Client Manager at IBM, is a well-recognised figure in our sector, working for a blue chip world recognised brand which has invested considerably over the last few years in developing a solution for this marketplace. Cailean shared his views, centering on the concept and need for an Exceptional Student Experience at the core of any approach. He said:
"In my opinion, learner engagement is too often the topic of leadership discussion and not the core of culture in UK FE. The Digital Native generation in particular gains such a vastly different experience across different industries and is often let down by their experience in comparison education. In retail they're engaged to co-design and customise their own shoes, in sport they're engaged en masse to select the squad, and in media they're engaged to decide the fate of others. In every case it is the individual who is empowered to shape the service they receive. Yet in further education, do we do everything that we could to engage learners in the design of their own education content, delivery and assessment? It is my view that the best architects of their own development are the individuals themselves and as such we need to work smarter to empower every learner to engage with their own education. IBM is working closely with Colleges across the country to define and deliver an Exceptional Student Experience, holding the concept of learner engagement at its core. See our successes here."
Penny Power is founder of the Digital Youth Academy