Going into 2017, organisations in the Further Education and Independent Training Provider sectors will have their own “New Year’s resolutions” to achieve their goals and to grow their business. However, from the many conversations I had towards the end of last year with people in these sectors, I am convinced that 2017 is going to be a year that sees a widening gap between those who succeed, and those who remain static (or worse, fail.) 

It’s no secret that there are lots of changes occurring at the moment. Area reviews outcomes; mergers; funding updates; apprenticeships challenges; etc. Part and parcel of all these disruptions is a consistent theme: the FE and ITP markets are becoming more competitive. 

Within this environment, the successful organisations will be those that: 

a) Realise that change is not optional but an absolute necessity 

b) Take a consistent and methodical approach to challenges, rather than a kneejerk response 

c) Have the determination to achieve more through innovation and adaptation 

For any business or organisation, adapting to change means beginning by asking a number of crucial questions. For FE colleges and ITPs, these are some of the questions that leadership teams are likely asking themselves: 

How will we maintain or increase our share of this more competitive market? How are we going to engage more methodically with the right employers? Do we fully understand our sectors’ business community? Can we work with the LEPs more effectively? How aligned are we with the LEP priority sectors? How are we going to make sure that we, rather than our competitors, win that bid for funds? What about the skills gap? How do we take full advantage of our apprenticeship provision? Ultimately: How do we build a better business case? 

That’s a lot of questions. It hardly needs saying, but the organisation that considers those questions is the one that is most likely to come up with a tangible plan, whereas the organisation that sees 2017 as “business as usual” is unlikely to be ready with solutions. 

Given all that is happening, and that is set to happen, it seems to me that it may well be something of a watershed year. A key focus will be on business development. And one of the crucial elements dividing successful business development from failure will be better insight. 

That is in fact one of the common themes connecting the questions mentioned above: What will give us the edge over our competition? Better insight. What will help us make our case to the LEP more effectively? Better insight. What will help us understand which employers to approach for apprenticeships? Again: better insight. 

I’m hopeful that 2017 will be the year when colleges and ITPs rise to these challenges, asking the kinds of questions mentioned above as a matter of necessity, taking a methodical and consistent approach to finding solutions, and having the determination to keep pushing to achieve more through innovation and adaptation. These things are, I think, the key to success in the FE and ITP sectors in 2017 – a success that will reap rewards not just for the organisations themselves, but for the students, employers and communities that they serve.

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