Ofsted’s recent report on the state of careers guidance in FE colleges has left many providers reeling. Out of the 17 colleges that Ofsted evaluated, the report said, only three provided adequate career support for their students. An article in FE Week commented on the report:
Ofsted national director of learning and skills Matthew Coffey said that only three colleges had revised their curricula to prepare learners better for local opportunities, and to meet local, regional and national skills gaps.
“More worryingly, over a third of those visited did not have sufficient labour market intelligence to help them to plan their provision,” he said.
This harsh evaluation is not without foundation, but colleges and schools are increasingly hard-pressed to find accurate relevant data. A quick glance at the news will tell you that the economy is still struggling to fix itself. Even with access to standard government labour market data, colleges often struggle to make good sense of the intelligence to direct their students towards sustainable careers after they graduate.
Most of the problems faced by FE colleges in their career planning are caused by a lack of consistent and reliable labour market data. Without crucial information, decision-makers merely fumble in the dark, making plans based on guesswork and speculation.
But here’s the good news: data is exactly what EMSI specialises in. It would be too simplistic to say that EMSI has the solution to all of the problems of the FE sector, but it is true that we can provide the tools that colleges need to help understand the economy and adjust their focus accordingly.
- FE colleges do not adequately demonstrate their impact on the economy
- FE colleges do not have sufficient knowledge of local labour market trends
- FE colleges do not underpin careers guidance with good, local data to connect learners to quality careers
If these charges are accurate, they constitute a fairly severe challenge to the FE sector across the country and highlights gaps that must be filled in order to enhance successful and sustainable student outcomes. In just the last few weeks, several leading colleges have fallen in their standing with Ofsted and these issues form part of this reasoning. But identifying the problem is not the same as coming up with a solution. So what is the solution to this lack of data?
1. Colleges do not demonstrate their impact
First of all, FE colleges don’t have sufficiently robust evidence to demonstrate their own impact on the larger community. To quote from the report, colleges should
work collaboratively across the further education sector to share best practice from the most entrepreneurial colleges, and develop consistent ways of measuring their impact on their local community and holding themselves to account for this.
In order to evaluate their own performance, it is absolutely necessary for FE colleges to understand the impact that they have on the community. For example, how much economic activity is generated by the presence of the college? How does the college affect workforce productivity? And how much are learners expected to earn once they have graduated? Apprenticeships, course provision and curriculum development are all driven by the college’s awareness of how they prepare students for jobs in the economy.
EMSI is a global leader in college economic impact studies and has undertaken almost 100 studies alone in the UK since 2008. As economic impact experts, we are helping FE colleges understand and quantify their impact on their communities. What does this entail? Using data collected from the college, we track learner outcomes, workforce productivity, local economic activity and taxpayer funding. The results of our study are presented to the college in a detailed report, which can be used to demonstrate the impact of the college in an understandable, and yet highly detailed, way.
“During our recent, successful Ofsted inspection, we used our Economic Impact Study to help evidence our contribution to the local community,” says Kate Webb, Principal at East Berkshire College. “As an independent assessment it added weight to the evidence of the College’s positive impact on the lives of learners and their families.”
Just as with any institution, FE colleges need to understand their place in the community, they need to be able to demonstrate the importance of their presence in the regional economy and they need to have a system in place to keep track of how they have achieved their positive outcomes. The economic impact study is one way in which colleges can begin to address this concern of Ofsted.
2. Colleges do not have adequate knowledge of the labour market
Secondly, the college must have a good knowledge of the general labour market in order to prepare their students for entry into the economy. The Ofsted report says that
To identify local requirements and plan for changes to provision for 16-year-olds, local labour market information and progression data are required. The survey revealed that this varied far too much in quality and availability. Only 10 of the 17 colleges visited had ready access to high-quality, detailed and localised data: for example, on the number and location of job vacancies, jobseekers and young people not in education, employment or training.
EMSI has developed another tool, Analyst, that allows a college to explore, in detail, the current and projected future breakdown of employment in the community by industry and occupation of employment. For example, Analyst shows a user not merely how many jobs exist in their region (not job postings, but actual jobs), but how many pharmacists exist in the region. Or computer specialists, or office managers or hairdressers.
Select an occupation and our data can show you how much those workers earn in a year, whether or not the occupation is growing and which industry employs the greatest number of workers in that occupation. All this data is accurate down to county and unitary authorities level. In the East of England, as you can see, there are 1,504 pharmacists who make around £18.79/hr, 84.6% of whom are employed in the dispensing chemist in specialised stores industry. Who knew?
We pull together data from 30 different government data sources to provide a holistic and joined-up view of how skills needs are changing within a college’s locality to ensure current provision meets not only the needs of today’s job market, but ensure the skills will be needed into the future in an ever-changing labour market.
3. Colleges do not provide the careers services necessary to guide a student from enrolment to employment
Thirdly, the college must be able to demonstrate how their course provision will connect learners to current and future local employment opportunities. The connection between courses and labour market data is a recurring difficulty across further education. It requires extensive knowledge of the local economy and the laborious task of matching specific courses to careers. If there were a way of making these connections that was both simple and accurate, it would be worth its weight in gold.
As the Ofsted report has it:
Colleges and schools should… work collaboratively to ensure that all young people receive objective and comprehensive information on all progression routes and qualifications and that they are informed of the full range of education, training and employment options available to them.
It’s too bad that web-based software is virtually weightless, because EMSI has already developed such a tool. It’s called Career Coach and upwards of 30 FE colleges across the nation are already using it to link their course offer to current job postings and key labour market information about how occupations are forecasted to change in the locality.
Career Coach is tailored specifically to the individual college and is a service offered across the community to help current and future jobseekers to understand local employment priorities and appropriate skills routes into employment. A number of Career Coach users work with local schools through the tool to ensure a collaborative approach to career planning based on good, local data. As Dawn Ward, Chief Executive and Principal of Burton and South Derbyshire College, says, “Career Coach ensures that learners are equipped with the vital skills that they need for today’s workplace”.
EMSI is not a magic wand that FE colleges wave to fix all their problems. There’s nothing fancy about our approach at all, in fact. It consists of consistent, reliable and up-to-date labour market information, displayed in a clear and cogent manner designed specifically for education and career planning. We work hard to provide this quality data so that colleges can make informed decisions. The only magic ingredient is the fact that this kind of data is exactly what FE colleges need and exactly what Ofsted is looking for – but this is really just good old common sense.