On 15th October, more than 20 delegates from colleges across the North gathered together at Preston’s College for our latest User Group to hear three speakers talk about how their colleges are using Labour Market Information (LMI) to enhance their strategies, focus their curriculums, improve employer engagement and promote their college to potential students. The titles of the talks given were:
- Strategic workforce planning and employer engagement
- Regional development activities and strategic partnerships
- Social media, marketing, and student recruitment activities
These talks were really exciting, containing a lot of useful information and ideas, and we want to share the content with you in detail. So over the course of three pieces, we will be looking at the substance of each of the talks in turn.
Strategic workforce planning and employer engagement
Our first guest speaker was Iain Nixon, Executive Director for Commercial Activity at Sunderland College. Iain managed to pack a wealth of information into half an hour, informing his audience how Sunderland has gone about formulating a strong business model which has heavily included the use of LMI.
But before attempting to formulate a business development strategy, Iain emphasised the importance of asking a preliminary question, the answer to which will shape the direction of the College’s whole approach:
“Essentially one of the first challenges in developing any new strategy, particularly on the employer engagement side, is: Where do you focus? Where is your starting point?”
Although different colleges will take different approaches, Sunderland College began by first asking what the policy priorities of local, regional and even national stakeholders were, where they would be likely to direct funding, and where they anticipated growth to come from. Beginning with these priorities, the College had a starting point from which they could begin thinking about their own focus and priorities.
These priorities, however, tend to be very high level and although this might be a good place to begin from, it is vitally important to go beyond the big picture and dig much deeper into detail to find out what the specific needs of the local economy are. This, according to Iain, is where LMI comes in:
“As we developed our strategy, we were very much looking for it to be evidence-based. And that’s where the LMI comes in as critically important.”
The value of good LMI, according to Iain, is that it allows you to drill down and get underneath the surface of the overarching priorities. By taking this approach, you are not just content to say that an overall industry is declining or growing, but instead you can actually establish where the decline or growth within that sector is actually found:
“The important thing is to get under the surface of these figures, and Analyst very much allows you to do this quite easily.”
Citing the example of the Manufacturing industry, Iain showed how a big picture look at the sector might well have caused the College to think that Manufacturing is not an area to be investing in (our data forecasts a decline of 4,221 jobs from 2014-2020). However, by digging down into the data, you find that actually not all Manufacturing is set to decline. The Manufacture of refined petroleum products, for example, is set to increase in the North East by 477 jobs between 2014 and 2020, according to our data.
Another sector that is set to increase, albeit very slightly, is the Manufacture of Motor Vehicles, where there is predicted to be a slight increase of 52 jobs from 2014-2020. By itself this increase, together with the natural replacement rate, might not be enough to give real opportunities for Sunderland College. Yet as Iain stated, this information can then be taken together with other knowledge that the College has – such as Nissan’s announcement that it intends to create around 200 jobs in the North East by building their Infiniti model – to form a more complete picture of what is really happening in their area in this sector.
This kind of detailed, specific information has informed Sunderland College where the emerging opportunities and skills needs of the future might be, and in turn this has formed a basis for the College to analyse where their niche is in the current environment. This then leads to another set of questions, such as, “How can we embed what we already provide and make it more robust in terms of the skills needs of employers?” “Are there opportunities for us to move into new areas which are likely to see growth?” “Who are the employers in the sectors that are set to see growth, and do we have links with them?”
In other words, strategy is one thing, but the purpose is not strategy for strategy’s sake. Rather the purpose of going through the detailed LMI and feeding it into the College’s strategic plan, is to move from strategy to making real changes on the ground that bring real benefits, in areas such as shaping curriculum, making investments and engaging with employers. A good example of strategy shaping the College’s investment decisions is their plans to open up a new £29million city centre campus, which will focus on engineering and manufacturing. Of course this decision wasn’t based on LMI alone, but certainly LMI played a part in the thinking and the decision.
In terms of employer engagement, in addition the opportunities the detailed data presents to engage with employers in growth sectors, Iain also mentioned the value of the College’s recent Economic Impact Study (which we reported on here):
“I would certainly encourage you, if you haven’t already done so, to consider undertaking an economic impact assessment, because it not only helps you in generating a public value statement for the College, but I’m finding this makes it incredibly useful when we’re talking to and engaging with businesses, because some of this is in their language – it’s about that return on investment they will get.”
Of course not every college will choose to copy the Sunderland College model. But in his presentation of how they moved from their starting point, onto formulating a strategic model using LMI, and finally to implementing the strategy “on the ground” in various tangible ways, Iain gave the audience an awful lot of food for thought.
The second part of this three part series will be published next week. For more details about our LMI and how it can help you with your strategic planning, contact Andy Durman on firstname.lastname@example.org.