One of the perennial complaints aimed at organisations, both from within and without, is that there is often very little sign of any integrated strategies and joined-up thinking going on. Brooklands college may very well be one of the exceptions.
Three years ago, the prospects for the college did not look good. Redundancies, funding withdrawal from the Learning and Skills Council, and low success rates for learners all pointed to an uncertain future. Yet just three years later and the college has seen a remarkable turnaround. Apprenticeship delivery has gone from a small contract to the 5th biggest in the South East, staff morale has drastically improved and — perhaps most remarkably of all — learner success rates have increased from 65% to 87%. What has driven this amazing change of fortunes? Essentially a new management team, a fresh vision, and robust systems and processes that set and monitor clear, achievable but stretching targets. Or to put it another way, joined-up thinking across the college which has given a once struggling institution a new lease of life.
One of the clearest examples of this joined-up thinking has been Brooklands’ investment into EMSI tools. This investment began at the beginning of the year when the college commissioned EMSI to do some consultancy work, culminating in the delivery of a custom-researched report. Since that time, the college has also invested in an Economic Impact Study and EMSI’s web-based careers and course promotion tool, Career Coach. These three products very much complement one another to form three points on the same strategic triangle of joined-up thinking, and Brooklands’ use of all three tools in unison demonstrates just how strategic their thinking has become.
Brooklands first approached EMSI in January this year to work alongside the college in a consultancy capacity. The reason they chose to go down this route rather than purchasing EMSI’s Analyst tool was because they needed expert input into their strategy and quickly. This could be best achieved through consultancy — taking Analyst licenses would have required build up period as staff were trained and became familiar with the tool which would have held back the college’s strategy production. EMSI’s expertise in the area of economic consulting is geared towards helping leaders and decision-makers understand and interpret key local Labour Market Information (LMI) with a view to supporting a range of economic development, education and skills challenges. To achieve this, we have a team of dedicated economists, data analysts, technical writers and designers who all work together to produce accurate and effective reports.
In the case of Brooklands, the end result of this consultancy process was the delivery in May of a Market Assessment & Strategic Development Report. According to the college’s Deputy Principal, Gail Walker, the report was a necessary part of the college’s strategic thinking: “We were in the process of developing a new strategic plan and we wanted some assurance that our direction was based on reality, not just based on what staff thought we should be doing”.
According to Gail, the report achieved these aims in one of two ways: “Firstly, it validated what we were already doing, confirming that we had a curriculum which matches the needs of our community. But then it also identified areas that we could look to develop in the future that we are not currently serving. So for example, the report highlighted warehousing and logistics as a growth area, which was not something we had previously considered, but which we are now investigating as part of our future strategy”.
The report has therefore proved to be both reassuring and challenging — reassuring to senior management that their current trajectory is right, yet at the same time challenging them to lead the college into territory which they had not previously considered. The report is also playing a vital part in the college’s bid-writing, where it is enabling the college to quote real data and expert analysis to back up their case.
The Economic Impact of Brooklands
The successful partnership between Brooklands and EMSI continued when the college commissioned an Economic Impact Study. These are custom-built reports which calculate the net impact of a college in terms of value to learners, businesses, taxpayers and the local community. The findings are put together in a presentation-ready report package, providing a college with solid evidence of its social and economic impact.
As someone who had been involved in a Study at a previous college, Gail describes them as a “phenomenal marketing tool” and it’s not hard to see why, given some of the quotable figures that have emerged from the Brooklands Study:
- Every £1 that learners invest in their education at Brooklands (including tuition, expenditure on books etc, and forgone earnings while studying) yields an average of £7.40 in higher future wages
- Society will receive £7.80 in benefits in return for every £1 invested in the college
- Taxpayers see an average annual return of 14.4% on their investment in Brooklands
These are impressive figures, and ones that can be used in a host of different ways. For example, Brooklands are currently using the findings both in internal reports and in external bid-writing. Another major application is for Ofsted visits. As Gail says, “It’s very useful to be able to tell Ofsted how much we deliver, how much we support the community, and show them that we’ve taken really serious steps to find this information out.”
The Market Assessment & Strategic Development Report and the Economic Impact Study both do very different things, but at the same time they also compliment each other, with the former being used to inform decisions about how to deliver value, and the latter measuring what that value actually is. However, useful as these things are, all the strategic planning and economic value measurements in the world will not make for a successful college if little is being done to serve those for whom the college exists: learners.
Brooklands very much sees itself not as a finishing point but as a stepping stone, especially for school leavers. In theory, this may sound fairly easy, but in practice it is often extremely difficult. Part of the challenge is that school leavers often have ambitions that are completely out of kilter with real employment opportunities, and another problem is that they often don’t know how to get where they want to go.
For a solution, the college turned to Career Coach. This web-based based system uses local LMI to link the education provided by a college to local occupations and employment trends, enabling colleges to promote their curriculum offer whilst at the same time helping learners to better map out their future.
Gails sees Career Coach as a signpost, helping the college bridge the gap between career aspirations and a sustainable career: “If a young person wants to be a chef, they can click onto Career Coach on the Brooklands website and it will direct them to our level 1, level 2 and level 3 catering courses”.
Although the college has not had Career Coach for long, it is already being used to promote the college to the local community, with a schools liaison officer going into local schools to talk to pupils, drawing their attention to Career Coach and inviting them to go onto the college website and use the tool to help them map out their future career paths.
There is of course a whole lot more to Brooklands’ joined-up thinking than EMSI’s tools. Over the course of the last three years, the senior management team has led a wholesale review of the college’s processes and systems, embedding new principles and methods that are enabling the college to become a hub of innovative learning. Yet there is no doubt that EMSI’s tools are playing a huge part in this vision. Through the Market Assessment & Strategic Development Report, the direction of the college is being confirmed and its future shaped. Through the Economic Impact Study, the tremendous value of the college to its community is beyond doubt. And through Career Coach the college is fulfilling its role as a stepping stone between learners and sustainable careers. Together these tools are an essential part of the joined-up vision that now characterises Brooklands, helping the college as it strives towards its goal of being “Outstanding Every Day”.