From education to employment

Can embedding business skills boost the employability of your students?

Traditionally further education has always been good at providing students with vocational opportunities. This often includes learning a trade, which prepares students for employment. Although I would say, this is usually focused as training as an employee and not the employer.

The UK Government encourages a vocational approach through various initiatives. These often require learning providers to engage more closely with local businesses and prepare students to meet local employment needs. But again, this tends to be as the employee rather than as an employer.

I would suggest the time is now right for us in the education sector to re-think the way it prepares students for their future career prospects.

Economic decline, globalisation, environmental concerns, technological advances, work/life balance – these are all factors that are causing the world to change. The job market is a very different place now than it was in the past and nine to five full-time employment is not the only option. There are more people doing multiple part-time jobs (often needing different skills/trades) and employers are also outsourcing jobs, sometimes just for short periods of time. These changes open up opportunities for varying degrees of self-employment.

And, if the world of employment is changing shouldn’t we?

With this in mind it was pleasing to read about the work being done at New College Nottingham. Through the Gazelle group of colleges, they are encouraging entrepreneurship as part of their curriculum offer. Now when I think entrepreneur, I always tend to think of Peter Jones from Dragon’s Den. But I believe that to prepare students for self-employment you don’t necessarily need to ask them to be entrepreneurs or even undertake a Level 2 or 3 Business Studies or Enterprise and Entrepreneurship qualification. I believe you simply need to give your art students, your plumbers, your bricklayers, your IT students and all your other students the necessary knowledge and skills to consider self-employment as an alternative to being an employee.

Please understand that I’m not saying additional study is needed. I’m suggesting that we should grow the seed that is already being grown in many colleges by embedding more of these concepts, such as marketing and sales, time-management and people management, in our main courses. And, do it in a way that is relevant to the course being studied.

It’s important to consider preparing our students for business life even if they decide that self-employment is not their chosen path. They will then at least have a head start on understanding the various factors that their employers work with every day to remain in business.

Now, I’ll readily admit I’m a technologist, working for one of Jisc’s Regional Support Centers, offering advice on the use of technology. But, I think technology can help make this concept a reality, allowing business skills to be delivered as part of the curriculum, whilst making the learning experience more interesting, developing skills and keeping the course relevant.

Here are my suggestions…


  • Webinars: used in business to engage with a world wide market, to work in project teams, to hold meetings with colleagues or get input from experts in chosen subject areas.


Why not try getting your students using these skills on a regular basis and presenting online. Learners should be comfortable using webinar technology, like the students at South West College who managed to keep learning in adverse weather conditions.


  • Use cloud services: CRM (storing records of customer/client contact), accounts/invoices, document production/sharing (e.g. Google Docs), project management, as used at Leeds City College, for example. There move to the cloud promoted productivity and collaboration whilst reducing costs and provided a safe, secure, flexible and affordable solution that met their needs.




  • Producing support resources for customers: video (eg. YouTube and Vimeo), Google Docs, screencasting, SoundCloud. Another good set of skill for communicating successfully in a business world. Students at City College Plymouth used video cameras to capture group sessions as part of their problem-based learning projects. The recordings are being used reflectively to encourage collaboration and improve confidence, inspiring a collective learner voice.


  • Time management: working globally brings its own issues on working practice, learning how to work with online shared calendars and meeting schedulers, local custom and practice. Brooksby Melton College use Sharepoint with staff to co-ordinate meetings and calendars. Knowledge and skills developed can then be passed to the students.


  • Legislation on a global scale: Data Protection, copyright, intellectual property rights, employment law and the legal pitfalls of using social media. With more and more data being sourced freely from the internet an understanding of this area is highly sought. Staff at Derwen College created a pseudo Facebook profile to discuss information that should and shouldn’t be published online.

Working practices are currently changing rapidly and have been for some time. We therefore should be asking ourselves whether we are preparing students in the best way we can to make the most of the various opportunities that lie in front of them. Yes, teach them a trade but teach them business skills too and so give them the option to potentially be an employer and not just an employee. And who knows, maybe even an entrepreneur.

If you are a supported Learning Provider in the FE and Skills sector, then you can contact your local Jisc Regional Support Centre for advice on technology for your organisation.

Gordon Millner is a technical infrastructure adviser at Jisc’s Regional Support Centre (East Midlands)


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