The government’s review into FE advocates fewer larger and more financially resilient colleges with greater specialisation. Delays to the outcomes of these reviews and important government guidance that should have been published in July continue to create uncertainty across the sector.
Many of those who have taken the initiative to merge prior to this process have done so to strengthen their financial profile and make these new collaborative institutions more resilient. As for the 200 or so that have already taken part in the area based reviews, many still seek the clarity needed to develop their future business needs in the coming years. A greater understanding of the FE Commissioners’ findings would provide an opportunity to develop strong business models for sustainable growth, improve quality and provide opportunities where learners can develop into our future workforce.
Mergers, Collaborations, and Shared Services
Since the area review process began, a variety of different models for creating scale, efficiency, and centres of excellence have been proposed. Providers in each area have been encouraged to decide the model that works best for them. Mergers between colleges or with other institution types have been proposed in various forms as have shared services agreements between institutions. There is much to be done to make these proposals a reality, driving forward implementation plans for merger, collaboration or creation of a new entity. Often an independent view is required to tackle the inevitable lack of clarity and disagreement over which party leads each element of the change.
In the case of shared services, creating a new commercial entity can have significant commercial advantages and be more collaborative, but is often more complex. Commercial negotiation and agreement of the key terms of the proposed shared services arrangements will be key regardless of the type of institution this becomes. These terms must work for and provide value to all parties if the collaboration if is to be a success and provide a flexible framework to deliver high quality delivery.
Start with WHY?
In order to develop more commercially viable institutions, teams will need to engage in a culture of excellence, innovation, and productivity; with the focus on developing individuals at all levels and attracting and retaining the best staff to take the business forward. They will need to develop the working practices that continue to support the legacy of differing institutional missions and values. Starting with the true purpose will be key; building an ambitious and compelling vision of why you do what you do. Developing sector leading responsive provision for current and future business needs that inspires learners and employers alike is the best starting point. Instead of chasing each and every opportunity for funding, become a centre for excellence in your field and champion new and innovative ways of working.
People and culture
Communication and a managed approach to culture are essential to ensuring a smooth transition in retaining talented people and maintaining good relationships with stakeholders as part of this process. Developing a coherent talent management strategy will ensure your develop latent skills in your teams and allow you to plan for future recruitment strategies. Making the transition towards more trusting relationships in these teams will take time and coaching may also form a key element to this process in the transition toward more responsive and effective teams. Encourage individuals to develop better ways of working in this new structure by ensuring that key process are fit-for-purpose and are used consistently. Provide opportunities for all staff to challenge and support each other through greater collaboration and innovation. This will embed compliant and robust working processes that promote good practice and serve to build more trusting relationships in your teams.
Less proving more improving
Allowing teams to challenge the time spent doing non - value added work would provide opportunities to focus on activity that adds value to learners, staff and other stakeholders. The results will improve engagement and productivity and develop the integrity and purpose in your teams to achieve this. Time is often seen as the most valuable commodity and certainly proved to be the best lever for change in service based industries. Understanding how we can leverage this and invest this saving into improving and innovating will give our teams a greater sense of purpose and offer more opportunities to diversify our income streams.
As the proposals from each area review are implemented, we will gain a better understanding of what these new institutions and collaborations will offer and how they can develop a responsive and flexible curriculum. For years the sector has been asked to deliver ‘more for less’ and perhaps now is a time to consolidate and focus on what can be delivered better, even if that means rationalisation in traditional areas of provision. Only then can we engage our teams and offer a wider range of customers a better quality of service.