From education to employment

Colleges respond to labour market need


Around half of colleges have introduced extra courses in construction, engineering, digital, health and social care in response to employer and learner demand, exclusive data from the Association of Colleges can reveal. 

All four sectors are currently on the Shortage Occupation List and are key areas of focus for both the government and shadow cabinet.

However, colleges report that learner demand is outstripping the funding they have available in all four areas, resulting in waiting lists at the same time all four sectors are in desperate need of skilled workers.

A report in January from the CITB estimated that an extra 225,000 construction workers may be needed by 2027, and there will be a particular increase in engineering type roles such as civil engineering operatives and civil engineers.

On digital skills, a report published by FutureDotNow found that almost 60 per cent of the UK’s workforce (23.4 million people) is unable to do all 20 digital tasks industry and government have defined as essential for work.

And in the health sector, the Heath Foundation found that the NHS staffing gap is at around 110,000 full-time equivalents, with research from the Health Foundation’s REAL Centre estimating the gap is likely to grow substantially by 2030.

Today’s data therefore shows how the country’s further education colleges are structuring their provision to meet demand from industry and government, while facing tight budgets and recruitment challenges for staff.  

Earlier this month, an IFS report found that since its peak in 2003–04, public funding for adult training opportunities has fallen by 31 per cent in real terms. Meanwhile, colleges recently saw the first increase in their core funding after over a decade of cut.

This year, colleges across the country have reported increases in enrolment of 16 to 18-year-olds.

Of the 86 colleges that responded to the survey, a third (34%) have waiting lists for full-time construction courses and almost a quarter (22%) have waiting lists for engineering courses. Around a tenth of colleges (12%) have waiting lists for health and social and digital courses. 

There is also demand for part-time and evening courses, with around 10% of colleges having a waiting list for construction and engineering courses, and around 5% for health and social and digital courses. 

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said:

“We know that the skills gap is having very real consequences for all businesses across the country, which in turn hampers our economic growth as a country.

“At AoC, we have highlighted the pivotal role colleges have to play in closing this time and time again. This data proves that colleges are stepping up and helping both adults and young people meet employer needs. However, there is not enough government investment to allow colleges to deliver the number of courses needed and pay for skilled staff to deliver those courses.

“A growing economy needs ongoing investment in skills, for jobs today and to be agile as job needs change. Sadly, that investment is lacking in our country – post-16 education funding is still way behind what is needed to boost economic growth. 

“Investing in skills gives instant and long-term returns through higher productivity, helping employers find and develop productive workers and in turn delivering higher wages.

“Without additional investment in further education and skills, we will not be able to fill these skills shortages in key priority areas of the economy and deliver the labour market the country needs.”

A joint report from the Open University and British Chambers of Commerce found that almost three-quarters (72%) of organisations say the impact of skills shortages is causing increased workload on other staff, while 78 per cent are seeing reduced output, profitability, or growth.

The report also found that more than two-thirds (68%) of SMEs are currently facing skills shortages, rising to 86% in large organisations, while 28% of businesses say they have had to turn down work or are not able to bid for work due to their staff shortage.

Data by sector 

Around 63% of respondents are running up to 20 full-time courses in construction, with 19% running 21 to 50 courses. Flexible learning is also popular, with 53% running up to 20 part-time courses, and 59% running up to 20 evening courses.  

In engineering, 70% of respondents are running up to 20 full-time courses, while 12% are running 21 to 50. Almost half of colleges offer part-time courses (58%) and evening courses (49%).

Across health and social care, 83% of respondents are running up to 20 full-time courses, with 7% running 21 to 50. In total, 59% colleges are running up to 20 part-time courses, and 45% are running up to 20 evening courses.  

And in digital, 86% respondents are running up to 20 full-time courses, with 3% running 21 to 50. Demand for flexible learning is also high for digital: 60% of colleges are offering up to 20 part-time courses, and 44% of colleges are offering up to 20 evening courses. 

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