An excellent article in last week’s Observer looked at how colleges can really excel by seeking to understand and respond to the needs of their local economy. The piece centred on Chichester College and in particular the way they have responded to local demand for highly skilled carpenters and joiners, which they identified seven years ago. Understanding this need was the prelude to the college transforming their woodworking provision from — in the words of the college principal — “a gentlemen’s club for those in retirement” into a vibrant workshop with 100 skilled furniture makers and joiners being trained every year.
The results of their endeavours have been impressive. Since graduating from the college, ten students have gone on to set up their own bespoke furniture businesses, whilst two local businesses that sell furniture to the international market have also benefitted hugely from the steady stream of qualified workers emerging from the college. What is more, Chichester is now gaining a national reputation for its high-end furniture, and it is no exaggeration to say that this all started with the college’s efforts to understand and respond to the needs of its local economy.
It is this kind of determination and vision that helped earn Chichester an Outstanding grading by Ofsted earlier this year — one of only five colleges in the country to achieve this. The efforts of the college have also attracted the attention of the shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt. During a recent visit to the college, he was clearly impressed with what he saw, and sees the likes of Chichester College as model colleges which others in the FE sector can look to for inspiration. In particular, he says he wants to see colleges following the Chichester model of taking note of the demands of their local economies and then taking tangible steps within the college to meet those interests.
In recent years, Chichester College’s commitment to understanding its local and regional economy has been confirmed by an investment into EMSI’s Analyst and Career Coach tools. Analyst, with its detailed local labour market data, is giving the college a window onto the needs of the local economy, which can then be fed back into the college’s curriculum planning. Curriculum aligned to local needs is one of the areas singled out by Ofsted in their Outstanding grade for the college:
“The highly effective, responsive and wide-ranging curriculum fully meets the needs of employers, businesses and communities across the region… Managers and staff have been highly successful in ensuring that the college curriculum meets local and national priorities. The college is a key provider of education and training in West Sussex, East Hampshire and beyond. The extensive range of work-based learning provision is responsive to, and reflective of, the needs of the local and regional business communities.”
Whilst Analyst is helping the college keep abreast of the demands of the local labour market, Career Coach is enabling the college to channel learners and prospective learners into sustainable careers. Once again, the college’s determination to understand and respond to the needs of the labour market and to learners were noted by Ofsted:
“Managers and staff provide extremely useful and pertinent information, advice and guidance to ensure learners make informed study and career choices. The ‘Positive about Futures’ team is particularly effective in providing detailed information on employability and labour market trends for managers and teachers to use to inform curriculum planning. Learners make very good use of an on-line resource that provides clear information about jobs and employment opportunities across the region.”
Tristram Hunt is right. Colleges that are proactive in understanding and then responding to their local economies are indeed model colleges. Should they become the inspiration to the sector that he hopes they will become, this will be of great benefit to everyone: learners, employers, communities and of course to the colleges themselves.
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