We now come to the final part in our brief series covering some of the implications of the General Election result for the FE Sector. Taking our cue from some of the post-election comments from leaders in the sector, we first looked at how colleges might tackle the issue of reduced funding, and in the second part looked at how Labour Market Information (LMI) might be used to form a more strategic and targeted approach in engaging employers for apprenticeship programmes.
In this final part we again want to just take a few of the comments made by some of the sector leaders (from FE Week), this time in relation to the “skills gap”:
“Skills gaps are beginning to appear in our economy, particularly at technician level, which is where colleges must have a leading role. Colleges are vital to the country in developing a highly skilled and productive workforce but in order to fulfil this role they need the resources to do the job.” Martin Doel, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges
“There is a strong cross-party consensus about the skills and employment challenges we face as a country as we strive for sustained and inclusive economic growth as well as for a society where everyone has real life chances.”
David Hughes, Chief Executive, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE)
Both comments acknowledge the growing skills gap, which is something that has been well documented in recent years, and both also acknowledge the importance of colleges in addressing the issue.
However, some might point out that since we have a skills gap that has been growing for years, even prior to the funding cuts, what this shows is that colleges haven’t been particularly competent in tackling the issue. There is some truth in this, yet Martin Doel and David Hughes are still right to say that the FE sector is a vital part of addressing the situation. The question is not whether colleges can help fix the skills gap, but rather how they can get better at tackling the problem.
As we have pointed out many times before, the term “skills gap” is something of a misnomer, the problem actually being more an “information gap”. It isn’t that colleges aren’t teaching the skills for people to go and work in the local economy, but rather that they often don’t know which skills their local economy really needs.
Let’s take an example using the county of Lancashire. According to our data, the industry that is set to see the fastest job growth over the next three years is construction, which should see a rise of about 2,636 jobs. A college in the Lancashire area might well see this information as a reason to decide to increase its construction provision. However, this may well be a mistaken notion and could actually exacerbate rather than close the skills gap. Why so?
In order to identify where the skills gaps are, we need to know more than just that a certain industry is growing or declining. We need to know what the major occupations are within that industry, and which of these are set to see growth or decline. This is where the staffing pattern function within our Analyst tool is invaluable.
By running a staffing pattern for construction in Lancashire, we can find out which occupations within the industry are set to rise and which are set to fall. The following table shows the five fastest growth occupations within construction in Lancashire over the next three years, as well as the five fastest declining occupations:
|Description||2015 Jobs||2018 Jobs||2015 - 2018 Change||Annual Openings|
|Production managers and directors in construction||2,166||2,255||89||116|
|Other administrative occupations n.e.c.||12,260||12,344||84||548|
|Elementary construction occupations||2,288||2,359||71||105|
|Electricians and electrical fitters||4,295||4,331||36||150|
|Floorers and wall tilers||169||149||-20||5|
|Painters and decorators||706||659||-47||23|
|Glaziers, window fabricators and fitters||572||521||-51||18|
|Carpenters and joiners||1,632||1,579||-53||54|
Had a college used the headline figure of construction growth to increase, say, their carpentry and joinery provision, they may well have ended up training people for jobs that won’t actually exist in the area, since the demand for carpenters and joiners is actually set to decline (it is admittedly slightly more complex than this, since although the overall numbers of carpenters and joiners are set to decline, the annual openings figures show that there are still likely to be some openings in these occupations).
What our staffing pattern shows is that biggest skills requirements for the construction industry in Lancashire are not in areas such as carpentry, or painting and decorating, or plastering, but rather in occupations such as civil engineers, production managers and directors in construction, and other administrative occupations n.e.c.
What might this mean for the FE sector in the light of funding cuts? The fact that there is a skills gap shows that the sector has perhaps not really got to grips with the problem. Certainly it doesn’t seem to have been successful in persuading the Government that it is a vital part of the solution. But by using LMI – and in particular staffing patterns – colleges can take a lead in this area, identifying where the skills needs in their communities are, and adjusting their provision to match course supply with demands for skills. Not only this, but they can also use LMI to point students and potential students in the direction of occupations that actually exist, so helping to get skilled people into the right jobs (see details of our Career Coach tool for more information on how this works).
Colleges that take this approach will not only be addressing one of the most pressing issues of the day with workable and specific solutions, they will also be able to prove that they are doing so effectively to various bodies, such as the Skills Funding Agency, the Local Authority, and their local LEPs.
For more details about how our LMI can help your college deal with the skills gap, contact Anthony Horne at firstname.lastname@example.org