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I have just started a new life as Chair of the Career Colleges Trust.
 
I was happy to take on this role because, throughout my involvement in further education over the last 25 years, a common theme has been the need for closer working between employers and colleges.
 
This helps students develop the skills they need to progress into fulfilling careers, and enables employers to grow their businesses effectively.
 
Employer engagement was a priority when I was Director General for Further and Higher Education in the Department for Education from 1992 until 2000. It was a priority when I was working as a senior education advisor for KPMG working, with colleges for 10 years from 2001. And it has been a priority over my recent four-year spell as Chair of the Corporation at Bromley College (which recently became London South East Colleges).
 
Throughout these years progress has been made. Yet employers are still expressing concerns that young people do not have the skills they are looking for. This was picked up in a report by the All Parliamentary Education Group published earlier this week.  The report highlighted growing concern among employers that, in future, they will struggle to fill skilled job roles.
 
There clearly still remains work to be done to improve the links between colleges and employers, so that students can progress into successful careers with the skills employers are looking for.
 
That is what Career Colleges are all about – set in colleges but working closely with employers who sit on advisory boards, offer masterclasses provide work experience, training and exposure to the industry.
 
I have been fortunate to see this in action at London South East Colleges in their Hospitality, Food and Enterprise Career College. The first of its kind to be set up in London, this pioneering initiative is supported by employers from top hospitality businesses throughout London and the South East.
 
The Career College has been very successful in attracting and retaining highly motivated students and in preparing them with the skills for jobs in the expanding hospitality and catering sector. And it has generated a good deal of local and national publicity. So it has been good for employers, good for the College but, most importantly, good for the students and their career prospects.
 
Looking beyond the Election and into the next Parliament, I am sure that a key priority for colleges will be continuing to work more closely with employers. That has always been crucial for technical and vocational education, and will become even more important following Brexit.
 
In terms of the forthcoming General Election, I would make two particular pleas to any incoming Government:
 
First, please ensure that the 16-19 and the technical routes are fairly funded in comparison with the funding of schools and higher education.
 
This year’s Budget was welcome in providing some boost to funding for 16-19s but over the years the squeeze on further education has been much greater than on schools or, with student fees, on higher education.
 
There is still some way to go to narrow the gap. If we want top quality technical and vocational education, colleges of course must be efficient and effective but they do require the necessary funding to do the job well.
 
And my second pleato an incoming Government would be please avoid making further significant changes to the framework and structures for delivering further and vocational education.
 
A recent report by the Institute for Government, ‘All Change’, focussed on further education, regional government and industrial strategy. It was highly critical of the frequency of changes in structures and delivery arrangements.
 
In the case of further education, the report pointed to 28 pieces of legislation over the last 30 years. I know from my time in the Department for Employment and in the Department for Education how tempting it is for Ministers to want to be seen to be doing something different. And often the quickest and easiest way is to pass legislation to make changes to structures and delivery arrangements. (And I confess I was involved in the creation and abolition of the MSC, of TECs and of the FEFC!)
 
We now have a relatively new framework and new qualification routes in place or proposed – reformed A levels, new technical and vocational routes/ qualifications and the new apprenticeship arrangements.
 
The Government’s top priority over the next five years should be helping to ensure that colleges and employers make a success of delivering effectively through these new arrangements. They must work closer together to ensure that young people are equipped with the skills that employers need, enabling them to achieve career success while helping the economy to grow.
 
Roger Dawe CB OBE, Chairman of the Career Colleges Trust

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