From education to employment

Action needed to address increasing skills gap in FE

person on laptop

A new report providing expert insight into current and future challenges in further education (FE) has highlighted the pressing need to rectify persistent recruitment and retention challenges in the sector.

The Sector Spotlight goes on to identify three areas of focus, including closing pay gaps with schools and industry, raising the profile of colleges to support recruitment, and building localised employer partnerships to help address teacher supply and work placement provision.

Alongside skills gap and demand data, the report also contains contributions by sector leaders David Hughes CBE, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, Michael Lemin, Head of Policy at NCFE, and Dr Sam Parrett CBE, Group Principal and CEO of London South East Colleges.

The Spotlight forms part of a new series by the educational charity and leader in technical and vocational learning NCFE. To mark the organisation’s 175th anniversary, it is releasing several reports looking at critical sectors, including FE, social care, early years, and digital, before publishing a paper calling for action and change across the skills landscape.

Philip Le Feuvre, Chief Operating Officer at NCFE, said:

“To mark NCFE’s 175th anniversary, we have invited collaborators from across the sector to develop a series of spotlight reports focused on four key sectors that are essential to the future of the UK’s prosperity and productivity; education and early years, social care, digital, and the Further Education (FE) sector itself. 

“By analysing workforce data and bringing together leading voices from across these sectors, as well as hearing from those working on the frontline of their respective fields, we can begin to identify current and upcoming challenges, as well as potential opportunities to address the skills gaps that have emerged.

“What’s clear from the insights in these reports is that sector skills gaps will continue or worsen if bold and transformative action is not taken.”

Utilising Office for National Statistics labour demand volumes, the FE Sector Spotlight report shows that, in 2022, there were over 175,000 more job postings within the education sector as a whole than in 2017. This includes the creation of brand-new jobs, seen as emerging skills, as well as people leaving roles and creating a vacancy. Both result in a skills gap, with the education sector’s increasing by more than 16% over the last five years.

A 2022 survey by the Association of Colleges highlighted that the average number of vacancies per college stands at 30, with “high levels of persistent vacancies in construction, engineering, health and social care and science and maths.”

Writing in the report, Dr Sam Parrett CBE said:

“We have seen the gap between pay in FE and schools widening. There has also been a much greater focus on the recruitment and retention challenges in schools than in FE. Recruitment and retention is indeed a major issue, putting many in the sector in an unsustainable position.

“We know this is predominantly the result of pay and workload issues, which are more favourable in other industries and elsewhere in the education sector. This is particularly the case for skills shortage areas and new or emerging subjects, where we are seeing a lot of change – such as green and digital.    

“Staff shortages have far-reaching consequences. People affected include other college staff who may need to provide teaching cover, as well as learners who are at risk of not benefiting from the most up-to-date teaching and knowledge. Employers will also struggle if they don’t have access to candidates with the right skills to join and develop in their workforces.”

NCFE identifies three areas of focus drawn from the data and expert views in the report:

  • Closing pay gaps – additional funding for colleges was announced in July 2023, however, there still needs to be a commitment to closing the pay gap with school teachers to incentivise skilled educators. There must also be targeted funding to close FE teacher shortages in key sectors to ensure pay gaps with industry are also not a barrier to attracting skilled professionals into FE.
  • Raise the profile of colleges – colleges are key anchor institutions which sit at the heart of their communities, yet they are often overlooked. More could be done to enhance the profile of further education and recruit people into the sector, particularly highlighting the diverse opportunities within it and the vital role it plays.
  • Build industry partnerships – development of partnerships between colleges, employers and industry will serve to greatly benefit all sides. Through localised, collaborative approaches we can start to address teacher supply, offer suitable work placement provision, and supply a skilled pipeline of talent into the workforce.

To read the full FE Sector Spotlight and subsequent reports as they’re published, visit here

Related Articles