Months have passed since the dramatic vote for Brexit and now further education colleges are starting to assess the long term effects of this decision on the sector. The good news is that prospects look far from bleak as the country will need more skilled workers.

Prime Minister Theresa May stated recently that Article 50 will not be triggered until the end of March 2017 at the latest. If this indeed does take place on time, we would not expect any enforced changes until 2018 at the earliest. Colleges should start planning now to ensure they are best placed to exploit opportunities to thrive in the sector post-Brexit. We have highlighted a couple of the potential effects:

Slower growth goes hand in hand with education

Although Brexit does not necessarily mean a recession, it is likely that there will be slower growth in the future – a natural response to uncertainty. With this comes a lowering of demand in the employment market: employers will be looking to keep staffing levels lower or constant, while young people will be more cautious of their options and their future career prospects. When these two factors collide, young people traditionally look to fill this employment gap. In need of boosting their skills, they will be looking to engage with full- or part-time education.

More significantly, the Brexit decision also results in major training issues. The vote essentially reforms the workforce environment and adapts the skillset requirements of the population – this will also benefit FE colleges.

Retraining skilled workforces

There is a risk that employers, particularly large multi-national manufacturers, which are dependent on European-wide supply chains, will move their operations abroad or that they will need to build their own supply base within the UK. This uncertainty will mean that skills needs are likely to shift over the coming years. Education and training will support the UK to manage these two scenarios. FE colleges can certainly help address this skills gap and people will need colleges to survive and deal with the changes and uncertainty over the coming years.

Hospitality training

Hospitality is likely to be one of the hardest hit industries as a result of a tightening of EU immigration. A possible lower pound could increase tourism into the UK, further increasing the need for training of local hospitality workers to help fill the void left by skilled immigrant workers.

Colleges’ response

This current period of uncertainty is an opportune moment for colleges to start planning ahead and identifying ways in which they could exploit the prospects arising from Brexit. This can be done in a number of ways, for example, by putting appropriate measures in place to deal with any potential influx in learners for a particular discipline.

It is also important that colleges are at the forefront of people’s minds when they consider the possibility of retraining. Colleges can engage with the public to inform them that they are available to assist with retraining.

In addition, from 2018/19, the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) intends to implement its arrangements for skills devolution and changes to the Adult Education Budget. The SFA states that this is “subject to readiness conditions.” It is therefore paramount that colleges are ready to provide an increased curriculum offering as soon as possible, in order to maximise their chances of securing funding.

Overall, Brexit can open up a wide range of new prospects for all in the FE sector – the above is merely the tip of the iceberg. The key point to remember is that the economy will always benefit from a skilled workforce and, in response, people will always look to meet this demand through training or retraining. All that Brexit serves to do is to increase the desire for education and create a need for new skillsets to help the economy thrive. While there will be a squeeze on immigration, there will be more people than ever needing to train in new skillsets. FE colleges therefore should not only see the darker side of Brexit, but also identify it as an opportunity for their growth.

Rakesh Shaunak, Head of Further Education, MHA MacIntyre Hudson

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