From education to employment

Employers aren’t really in the driving seat on skills: New thinking for FE leadership

The state stills remains firmly in control of skills provision in this country despite government claiming that reforms over the last five years have put employers in command.

This principal finding came as a result of research conducted by the Association of Employment and Learning Providers and the Further Education Trust for Leadership of 81 FE and skills sector leaders in nine roundtable discussions around England.

The research set out to find whether the ‘employer in the driving seat’ mantra for skills stood up in practice but sector leaders concluded that the policy had had little impact. 

Instead they believed:

  • Employers are no more in the driving seat now than they ever were and only big employers can be.
  • Instead the government has changed the narrative about the sector’s purpose and the state is still really in the driving seat.
  • Many employers prefer to rely on expertise of training providers rather than doing it all themselves.
  • Not much training would happen if providers weren’t around.
  • Frustration exists over not being able to meet SME demand for apprenticeships.
  • Concern exists over not meeting enough the needs of individual learners, lower skills provision and the social mobility agenda.
  • Sector needs to blow its own trumpet more and be more assertive of what its role should be.
  • ‘Just surviving’ is now almost an aim in itself.

Commenting on the AELP/FETL findings, AELP CEO Mark Dawe said:

‘It was right that government felt that there needed to be a step change, but their energy and the change were focused at the wrong things in the wrong way.

‘Employers have been engaged and want to engage; they want to contribute but need some structure to work within and appropriate rules and guidance to follow.  Many are not training and education experts, many are not assessment experts, but they certainly know the skills they want – so let’s use the employers for what they are good at.  Of course, if they want to deliver, if they want to assess, if they want to fulfil other roles, that’s wonderful, but we cannot expect this at every level in every sector.’

The research report addresses the role of technological advances in training and on this, Mark Dawe added:

‘Technology is slowly being embraced, but it is slow.  It should be weaved into every aspect of the process.  It isn’t buildings we need; it is technology and access to the best employer facilities for those in training.’

Dame Ruth Silver, FETL President, said:

‘One thing that I would wish for the sector is that there was a promise from government to not interfere with things for a period of five years. To let things take root, to let things have stability, to let managers and leaders have the time of perspective.

‘Employers lose interest, feel frustrated or ill-served, and withdraw, at great cost to learners and the sector, not to mention the treasury and economy.’

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