Employers in the driving seat?

The President of the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL), Dame Ruth Silver, has identified an acute need for FE leaders to ‘forecast and shape change’ and ‘to play a stronger part in building the future of the sector’, saying that FE is ‘under-understood, under-conceptualised, under-researched and under-theorised.’

In early 2018, FETL commissioned AELP Research to help address this need by organising a series of facilitated roundtable discussions at which diverse groups of leaders can share views and develop their thinking on behalf of the sector.

This paper, written by researchers Paul Warner and Cath Gladding at AELP, aims to stimulate and help develop thinking in and about the FE and skills sector today. Between April and July 2018, AELP are running a series of roundtable research discussions with senior leaders from across the FE and skills sector – providers and stakeholders. This paper is our starting point at these roundtables, but it has also been made available to a much wider audience.

The particular topic selected for consideration in this paper is the current and future role of employers in the FE system and implications for the leadership of training providers. In recent years, vocational skills and further education policy has seen a sustained rise in prominence in the role of employers. The notion of education and learning as having inherent worth seems, it is argued, to be losing ground to the primacy of the needs of industry, productivity and employers.

In summary, we are asking experts to develop and share their views on the shifting nature of the balance between provider/employer/state in the FE system.

How do any such shifts affect how leaders view the priorities and possibilities of their own organisations and for the sector as a whole?

How is this dynamic affected by another particularly significant and fast-changing influence, digital technologies?

Employers in the Driving Seat? New thinking for FE leadership 

This report from the Association of Employment and Learning Providers is a very welcome contribution to the debate on the involvement of employers in further education and skills.

The Further Education Trust for Leadership is pleased to have supported it and to publish it.

The government has made much of its apparent desire to ‘put employers in the driving seat’ but it has been less forthcoming about what this should mean in practice or how they intend to deliver what would be a quite significant change in the way the sector is run.

As the study shows, few are convinced by the government’s rhetoric, and there is little indication that employers are prepared or even particularly interested in fulfilling this role, as it is currently defined.

In the brave new post-Brexit world, in which the public purse strings are pulled tighter and we are obliged to do more of our own training rather than poaching talent from elsewhere, it will be even more important to ensure employers are contributing to the further education funding pot and playing a full role in shaping provision.

Employer engagement is critical but it is far from clear that this requires putting them ‘in the driving seat’, or, indeed, whether this is desirable.

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