The further education system is entering a new era with many significant changes bringing uncertainty to the landscape. Since 2009 there has been a 35% funding cut to 14-19 education, seeing college numbers shrink and college sizes grow. As such, colleges now find themselves operating in an increasingly competitive and commercial environment.
Working with over 50% of the UK’s colleges, at FEjobs we are acutely aware of the changes the sector faces. Looking at recruitment data for the first half of 2017, the most increased job vacancies were Finance Bursar, up 72% and Business Manager, up 39%. Colleges employ 127,000 full time staff but only half of these are teaching staff.
To compete and deliver quality education, colleges need to think innovatively about attracting and retaining key commercial skills needed to thrive in this new era. As well as lecturers, here is my take on the skills needed to grow and sustain a successful college.
Recruit strong commercial skills needed to secure funding:
Significant reductions in funding and budget cuts means college offices will have to put forward business cases for further funding. As the Adult Education Budget is decentralised, more responsibility will fall to business managers to bid for ad hoc local and national government funding bursaries. Therefore, colleges need to recruit and cultivate good commercial skills to successfully secure much needed, additional funds.
Marketing to attract students and lecturers
Our survey of over 750 FE professionals listed college reputation as a key issue perceived by candidates as a problem for college recruitment, demonstrating that marketing must become a critical business function for colleges. As well as promoting the unique brand of each college, marketing and recruitment teams will need to work closely together to compete for students and attract high-quality teaching staff. Offering increased salaries is not an option for most in the sector, therefore colleges need to utilise marketing skills to promote their brand, emphasising the benefits unique to their organisation.
Build relationships with employers
The UK expects school leavers to be skilled and work ready and colleges have a significant role in delivering skills training and apprenticeships as solutions to the skills gaps. It is now critical for colleges to recruit the legal and commercial expertise needed to develop links with large companies and forge relationships with employers who can give learners vital exposure to the workplace, either through apprenticeships or work placements.
Update inefficient business models
As colleges grow to become equipped to take on commercial functions, there will be little space for inefficient processes such as outdated recruitment models and inconsistent monitoring of staff satisfaction. This is a critical time to review processes to ensure colleges attract and retain their existing quality staff. For colleges that are merging or re-structuring, a supportive HR strategy will contribute to the happiness of the staff, the quality of teaching and ultimately the success of the college for its students.