From education to employment

LSIPs must evolve to deliver on their ambition, say college leaders

LSIPs must evolve to deliver on their ambition

One year on from the national roll-out of local skills improvement plans (LSIPs), colleges have set out a blueprint for how the plans need to evolve in the future to be successful, and fully deliver on their ambition.

In a new report from the Association of Colleges, ‘Local skills improvement plans: a review of their impact and opportunities for the future, colleges on the frontline of delivery reveal how effectively the plans are working in reality, and what needs to change for LSIPs to deliver on their promise going forward.

The report sees senior college leaders and employer representative bodies across the country share their experiences and has been informed by engagement and input from across the further education (FE) sector, mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) and local authorities (LAs) and business groups.

Introduced in the Skills for Jobs White Paper and rolled out nationally in 2023, LSIPs identify, articulate and deliver on the long-term skills needed within a locality. The plans are led by employer representatives bodies (ERBs), working with colleges, universities, other learning organisations, LAs and MCAs. Both the Conservative and Labour parties have suggested that LSIPs would stay in place if they were to form the next government.

The research found clear evidence of some early success, with a number of colleges connecting with local employers who had not previously engaged with the skills system, becoming genuine partners in the development of the LSIP, and in many cases strengthening ways of working across local college networks. It also found that the strategic development fund (SDF) drove a range of innovative and impactful interventions and provided capacity for colleges to strengthen their strategic engagement with employers.

However, this success is not universal across the country, and many colleges spoke of frustrations and challenges which need to be addressed. Concerns were raised about LSIPs existing in a vacuum of any national strategy or priorities, with colleges facing a multitude of local and regional plans alongside the LSIP, which drives complexity rather than coherence. Leaders also said there was very limited coordination across wider spatial and sectoral boundaries across LSIPs, at times inconsistent levels employer engagement, and a failure to embed LSIPs within the wider system of funding and accountability.

These issues undermine the ability of education providers to respond to the plans and has resulted in limited engagement across the wider post-16 system.

The report makes several recommendations on how LSIPs need to change for the future, grouped into four key areas.

  • The first is the focus on building genuinely place-based partnerships, ensuring that LSIPs act as a partnership between all the key stakeholders, and that they cohere with other local or regional planning processes, rather than adding layers of complexity to an already complex system.
  • The second is ensuring effective, strategic employer relationships which are a ‘two-way street’, ensuring that the focus reflects the broad range of employers within a place, is on the long-term priorities rather than simply current vacancies, and involves reflecting on how employers will have to change too.
  • The third is the funding context, recognising the impact of both the level of funding going into the system and the funding approach, as either enabling or undermining ability to deliver on the plan.
  • The fourth is ensuring a clear and coherent approach to accountability, so that everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities in developing and delivering on LSIPs.

Comments from college leaders are anonymised, but several highlighted the importance of genuine partnerships between colleges and ERBs.

One principal in the East and West Midlands said:

“Colleges must be involved. They have their focus on the talent pipeline and how to achieve it; they bring expertise on essential elements such as qualifications, funding, and students. This could work well with a strong ERB working to develop a common language and shared understanding of the system, amplifying the employer voice, and providing genuine representation of employers.”

While some colleges were pleased with their relationships with employers, others urged the government to ensure employers took “ownership” of valuable engagement with employers.

A principal in London said:

“The LSIP itself will not have the impact the government is seeking. There needs to be a set of recommendations about the role of employers in engaging with colleges, investing in training, contributing to the system through providing work placements, and designing curriculum, delivery, and assessment.”

On funding, there was broad recognition that the the local skills improvement fund (LSIF) and its successor, the SDF, had allowed colleges to be responsive and to invest in developing deeper relationships with employers. However, there concerns were raised that a lack of revenue funding prevented them from addressing issues in recruiting and training.

One principal in the East and West Midlands said: “We’ve got all the kit, but we have no teaching staff to use it. We can’t afford them. We can’t recruit them.”

On accountability, college leaders were comfortable with being held accountable for their provision but argue that others contributing towards the LSIPs should also be held accountable.

A principal in East and West Midlands Region, said:

“One challenge is that only FE colleges are held to account. Not school sixth forms, private providers, or universities. Why?”

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said:

“While in their infancy, it’s clear that LSIPs have had a positive impact in many places and could be an important part of a more systemic approach to post-16 skills and education. This report is full of brilliant case studies which show the real value of colleges and other learning providers taking a true partnership approach with businesses and policy makers to deliver for their communities.

“However, the report also highlights some clear frustrations with the plans, and college leaders have made it clear that to truly meet the ambition, evolution is needed in how LSIPs fit within the wider system and last week we set out how a new national skills body could work closely with local areas to get the social partnerships between employers, unions, colleges and the government working more effectively. This report sets out how employer relationships, funding and accountability need to evolve to make the most of the LSIP processes.

“The next government will need to have a strong focus on inclusive economic growth and the provision needed to help local people meet the growing skills shortages. I’m sure this report will provide a useful blueprint for those policy makers as they look to make sure LSIPs deliver for all people, businesses and communities as part of a reformed new tertiary system.”

Jane Gratton, Deputy Director of Public Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“To grow the economy and give everyone the best opportunity in the workplace, it’s essential to improve how we plan for skills – nationally, locally and in every business. 

“That’s why place-based LSIPs have a crucial role, bringing together employers, training providers and other major stakeholders to identify their area’s skills needs and training solutions. 

“LSIPs will align our skills ambition, opportunities and investment. The next government must build on the success of LSIPs, ensure they are a key component of local, regional and national economic strategies and fund them for the long-term.

“This report sets out clear recommendations on how to make this happen. We need a national strategy which LSIPs can build on locally, to embed LSIPs more fully into the devolution agenda, and to develop funding and accountability to support this approach.”

The report also includes 12 case studies which detail best practice within LSIPs. You can read the full report here, and AoC’s policy paper on LSIPs here.

Related Articles