From education to employment

Developing leadership skills for regional economic development

3 people looking at a piece of paper

Scotland’s colleges are playing a leading role in the design and delivery of regional economic strategies. With support from College Development Network’s (CDN) Economic Recovery Group (ERG) to further develop leadership skills in this area, colleges are going even further.

The last 12 months have seen the ERG Team supporting a number of colleges as they navigate the intricacies of working in partnership with a variety of organisations in their respective regions.

Launched in November 2021, the Economic Recovery Group project was established to accelerate sector-wide leadership skills in regional economic recovery and renewal through regionally focussed project-based activity.  Working with leadership teams and boards of college regions, the ERG Team have shared their extensive knowledge and experience in engaging with regional economic recovery and renewal.


Developing the confidence and capabilities to drive forward the role of the college as an anchor institution and build productive relationships with key regional partners is an important part of leadership development within the sector at different levels.

An early adopter of this project was Forth Valley College as it assessed its work at the heart of the region’s economy. Understanding the mechanisms for strengthening the relationships with key stakeholders in the regional economy drawn from public, private and social sector organisations while positioning itself as the driver of regional economic recovery and renewal have been achieved.

Meanwhile in Ayrshire, the main focus of the ERG Programme’s engagement with the College was to support it as it strengthens the alignment of its work with Ayrshire’s strategic priorities for regional economic development.  In particular, the programme worked with Ayrshire College leaders to address the challenge of how it should best position itself to optimise its influence over the development of the Region’s Economic Strategy (RES) and Regional Skills Investment Plan (RSIP).   

Aided by the ERG Team and with inputs from multi-agency workshops, Dundee and Angus College have produced a Regional Inclusive Growth Action Plan. The College intends to use the plan as a framework for optimising the deployment of its capacity and capability in support of its active participation in regional economic partnership working.

Similarly in Dumfries and Galloway, the College’s senior leaders were supported in developing a more comprehensive appreciation of the role of their organisation as a key driver of inclusive regional economic renewal and transformation as evidenced in their effective participation in the college-convened multi-agency seminar.

Phase 2 

Going forwards into 2023 and phase 2 of the programme, the ERG Team are further developing the confidence and capabilities of college leadership and boards as the sector seeks to develop inter-regional and cross tertiary collaborations.

This provides an opportunity to deepen and intensify the support for college leaders as they heighten the role of their colleges as drivers of regional economic renewal. Pivoting and adapting to the continuing changes in their operating environment and functional economic geographies will be needed now more than ever as budgets continue to tighten.

Willie Mackie of the ERG said:

“Faced with the challenges of the current unprecedented financial environment, there is an urgency like never before to leverage the opportunities that greater collaboration across multiple stakeholders can deliver to protect, nurture and develop the skills system which is so critical to our economic recovery following the shocks of the Covid crisis and the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Cooperation across Scotland’s tertiary sector is therefore no longer an option for our colleges – it is a pressing necessity at both strategic and operational levels if our talented and committed students are to achieve their full potential.”

This is the impetus for the next phase of the Economic Recovery Group’s (ERG) work following the completion of programme which focused on colleges as drivers of regional economic development. 

Willie added: “We have found that there is a growing realisation amongst colleges of the imperative of working more closely together across regional and administrative boundaries at a strategic level in those parts of the country where the functioning economic geography extends across two or more college region areas.  Collaboration between college regions and between them and universities has the potential to bring real additionality to the delivery of the inter-regional skills agenda of Regional Economic Strategies (RES) and Growth Deals.”

A key focus of this phase of ERG’s work will be to assist leaders of college regions as they develop opportunities for inter-regional and cross tertiary action-focussed collaboration with the aim of presenting to partners and stakeholders a more integrated and co-ordinated tertiary offer.

The challenges our tertiary system faces are great and immediate; its future success will depend on deeper and more comprehensive collaboration.

For more information on the work of the ERG Team please contact Programme Director Paul Smart at [email protected]

Related Articles