Collab Group

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Employers reveal how colleges can help their business

Further Education colleges are uniquely placed to engage with industry and support employers to meet their business needs. Collab Group recently sat down with a range of employers and trade bodies to learn about their businesses and how FE colleges can better support them in the current economic environment.

The main finding from the exercise was a view expressed by all respondents: a struggle to meet short- and medium-term skills needs at all levels of ability.

Candidates with strong management potential are in strong demand but employers are facing a weak supply. We heard that employers would like to maintain a pipeline of talent who walk in young and with the potential to become managers in the organisation. The problem is that there simply isn’t enough young talent coming in.

Some of these issues have been induced by external events. Both our departure from the EU and the coronavirus pandemic have contributed to shrinking pools of talent. The result is fierce competition for recruits in today’s labour market.

One employer told us that a premier London restaurant promoted a junior member of staff to a management role. On the face of it, this is a fantastic opportunity for the individual to shine and show they have the skills needed to manage front of house staff. In fact, they were too successful: they were poached by a rival firm who was able to offer a much higher salary. This competition for talent seems to be a recurrence across industries; we have seen this happen among the ‘big 4’ professional services firms, as well as smaller hospitality employers.

However, other recruitment issues have internal causes. A trade body told us that in their sector, there is no clear career path, leading to a perception that there are only low paid, entry-level jobs available – which is far from the case. This was one example of where FE colleges can step in to provide a solution. Not only do they have access to talent via their students, with whom to share information about career paths in the sector, but they can also play an active role in advancing careers along these paths in their chosen fields.

We heard of other ways FE colleges could better support industry, too. There was a call for a common language, spoken by both employers and colleges, so that employers know what colleges offer and colleges can respond more deftly to business needs. In particular, colleges could be better at explaining what they have to offer to smaller businesses.

An interesting observation related to the risk of colleges investing in training programmes that were potentially not sustainable, as the skills we need today may not be the skills we need tomorrow. The UK economy is undergoing disruptions and transitions on multiple fronts. As well as Brexit and Covid-19, we also have an ageing population and technological revolutions taking place.

This underlines the idea that education providers and industry must engage in an ongoing dialogue and further emphasises the need for a common language.

Collab Group will continue to engage in activities that facilitate communication between FE colleges and employers, helping businesses to meet their needs and the UK’s workforce to be upskilled, thereby supporting our economic recovery.

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