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“You make your own luck” as the saying goes, but I wonder how much we want and how far we are willing to go to generate it.

It has been four years since the much lauded Jobs and Growth Plan and with it the focussed themes of Skills and Employment, SMEs, STEM and Infrastructure. Yet, the latest (draft) 2017 Skills and Adult Education Strategy for London is now out and with it very similar thematic headlines to before. We must grab this opportunity before we have another piece of research!

Brexit, occupational automation, broader technology innovation and an ageing workforce across London are massively disruptive influences coming our way, but these are things which London colleges can do something about and play a leading role in addressing. It’s all very well having more skills surveys and plans at the macro level, but all across London, local authorities are developing their own line of sight on skills, employment and productivity strategies – and our challenge is to get every one of our colleges at the heart of those local aspirations. We need to own skills devolution. If not, we could slip back to the days of ILEA and recoupment (showing my age now!)

So with London’s population nudging 10 million within the next few years and over a million existing businesses on our patch needing help, I believe we need to look holistically at the major skills challenges facing us.

Firstly, we must find new ways for sub-regional college collaboration and planning. Regardless of where we are located in the region, no single college has the capacity and resource to satisfy future skill demands and it is unrealistic to assume all employers will accept single delivery centres. The ABR process re-ignited the collaboration dialogue – we must now step up to the plate to make it happen.

Secondly, we must address the issue of a sustainable FE business model going forward. We do marvellous things and change the lives of thousands of people – with some of the most passionate and dedicated staff in the country and yet colleges fail to afford pay increases and the like because of financial constraints. If we have the best talent, we need to pay the best in order to retain the expertise and creativity in our colleges. Making do and making ends meet is not an attractive proposition for our stakeholders and will not help us get a consistent quality product to offer.

Third, we must find our voices and nail the argument that our funding system is fit for 21st century responsiveness and supporting economic productivity; it isn’t. Collectively, we spend too much time making employer requirements fit into bureaucratic and unwieldy funding and eligibility systems It is November 2017 and does anyone know their apprenticeship allocation post-January 18?? No wonder last quarters’ apprenticeship starts showed a 61% drop on the previous year. And don’t even get me going on adult re-training! The future AEB skills commissioning process will be a game changer and I am not sure we have got our heads round that one. With skills devolution we have a great opportunity to fight for a new way of allocating funds.

Lastly, responding to new skills requirements and the consequent development of new provision needs time: time to think it through, time to create and time to implement. We must resist the rush for quick fixes, incoherent qualification and assessment pathways.

Since 1993 we have been at the forefront of change management, successfully adapting to numerous policy drives. The next few years will be among the most exciting we’ve experienced-I fancy London FE to generate a huge chunk of luck as we step out of the shadows to grasp the initiative.

David has been the Principal and CEO of Barnet and Southgate College since 2012, before which he led the successful merger of Barnet College and Southgate College. He sits on the boards of various groups delivering better skills training and employer engagement across London and the UK, including the Collab Group and the London Apprenticeships Training Group. You can follow David on Twitter here

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