An important paper has recently been released by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and the Association of Colleges (AoC), setting out how local organisations should be working more closely together to foster economic growth.
In Local Action, National Success: How Outcome Agreements can Improve Skills Delivery, the authors argue that if we are to see any real progress in establishing better skills provision and increased productivity, organisations within local economies need to come together to establish “outcome agreements”, which it defines as “a collectively established, written agreement identifying both the skills needs in a local area and the solutions to address them.”
The authors of the report say that rather than a nebulous agreement which commits the signatories to nothing much, an outcome agreement should not just be a piece of paper, but rather a contract which “involves real commitment from partners in a range of sectors, brought together by a common need to tackle skills issues, with collaborative accountability, desire and need to achieve this.”
Such agreements could, in the view of Martin Doel, Chief Executive of AoC, be used by colleges “to work with a greater number of employers and a greater range of partners” and he goes on to say that this could be an approach that
“links provision with the broader economic aims and needs of their area, while at the same time developing the provision that their students demand.”
The theme of linking provision with the aims and needs of the area is prominent throughout the report, with the authors arguing that linking skills provision much more closely to local economic need and the local labour market “could provide an alternative form of accountability for the use of public funds”. However, this can only be done, they argue, with the use of good labour market intelligence. For instance, in her Foreword, Barbara Spicer, Chief Executive of Plus Dane Group and UKCES commissioner, says that the outcome agreements need to be
“underpinned by robust, quantitative data and balanced with local intelligence.”
The same point is reiterated later in the report:
“Outcome agreements need to be underpinned by robust data and intelligence.”
The most crucial words in these statements are “robust” and “local”. As we have argued on many occasions before, for instance in this piece for FE News, data that is not robust can actually end up leading people in the wrong direction, to false conclusions and to counterproductive solutions.
The same is true with regard to the local aspect. Because the raw data that forms the basis of Labour Market Information contains a good deal of suppressions at the most specific geographies, some LMI solutions tend to make assumptions about what is happening at the local level based on what is happening at the more generic geographies. This can be very misleading. For instance, the skills needs in Sunderland will be quite different than those in Durham, and if we just assume that they have the same growth rates because they are in the same region – the North East – we will end up with some very skewed figures.
We find ourselves in agreement with much of what the report says, for instance Martin Doel’s description of FE colleges as “skills powerhouses that drive the local and national economy” is similar to terminology that we have used in the past to describe colleges, such as “economic dynamos” or “social enterprises at the heart of the community”.
Another instance of agreement is on the need to put outcomes at the heart of success, rather than measuring success by qualifications. For more details of our position on this, and on how colleges can move forward with an outcomes-based approach, see our White Paper Preparing for Outcomes Based Success Measures in Further Education here.
Finally, we are very much in agreement with the premise that if organisations are to go down the outcome agreements route suggested in the report, then robust, local intelligence will indeed need to play a key part. But as stated above, it really does need to be robust and it really does need to be local.
For more details about our data, contact Anthony Horne at firstname.lastname@example.org