If you are running a conference and no less than four speakers are forced to pull out within a month of the event, you might be tempted to think that the whole thing is doomed to failure. All the more so when one of those speakers is also due to host the conference and chair the panel sessions, but is forced to pull out the day before with an awful chest infection — such was the unfortunate lot of our Managing Director, Andy Durman.
Well, these were the far-from-promising circumstances surrounding our first national conference, held at The Wesley Hotel, London on 3rd March. But thankfully, the show did go on, and if the selection of comments we’ve had since then are anything to go by, it exceeded most people’s expectations.
The purpose of the conference was to look at some of the issues that are going to be on the radar of FE colleges during and after the Area Review process, especially those issues that are directly connected with increasing growth and productivity in local economies. But more than that, our hope was to offer up some fresh perspectives and to get colleges and their local partners thinking about and talking about how they can work more successfully to increase productivity in their area.
The Big Picture: Area Reviews, Data and the Future of FE
Our first talk was due to be taken by Andy Durman, but in his absence Andy Davison, our Clients Services Manager for the South, stepped up to the plate. Andy’s aim was to set the scene for the rest of the conference, and he began by stating that in the aftermath of the Area Reviews, there will be far fewer, but generally bigger institutions, and that the expectations for them to remain financially viable, and to implement new and better ways to increase productivity and employability, will be huge.
Some of the things that colleges are going to need to think about include achieving a successful merger; forging better partnerships with local stakeholders such as LEPs; becoming more strategic in their approach to apprenticeship provision; improving their business model; and looking for new opportunities to diversify and increase income.
Although the conference was in no way intended to focus on Labour Market Intelligence, Andy gave a few brief ways in which data can be used to provide part of the solution to these questions. Perhaps the overarching answer is found in our core mission statement, which is:
“To provide a dataset that builds a common language and understanding for local stakeholders to make better, more informed, joined up decisions to meet local need and drive local growth”.
To find out more, you can download Andy’s presentation here.
Bigger Ambitions: Lessons From America
Our second speaker was Emsi’s Director for Client Services, Doug Heckman, who is currently based in our Idaho office, but is moving to the UK in April to head up our Further Education team.
Doug presented a couple of case studies from the US, both of which give an insight into how colleges can begin to think about taking the lead in regional economic development. The first of these was the example of Walla Walla Community College, which is located in a small rural town in Washington state. Back in the 1990s, the region was in a state of economic stagnation, and it may well have remained that way had it not been for the vision of the President of the College, Steven Van Ausdle.
Conventional wisdom says that the economy creates jobs, then colleges and universities provide the talent to fill the vacancies. However, Mr Van Ausdle essentially attempted to flip that on its head by proposing that workforce talent can be used to create jobs and increase productivity. One of his main achievements was to see the potential the area had for becoming a major wine producer, and to build a College programme geared to supplying the talent to fuel its growth. In addition, he took his ideas to regional development agencies and chambers of commerce, in order to secure the investment needed to really grow wine-making in the area.
In other words, instead of chasing demand with skills supplied by the College, he was using the skills supplied by the College to drive demand, with Emsi data playing a big role. The result is that a once stagnant economy is now thriving, and people now come from all over the US to a town that has gained renown for its wines. The College’s role in this was recognised in the 2013 Aspen Awards:
“America’s economy today feels as sleepy as Walla Walla’s two decades ago. Middle-class workers were slammed by the financial crisis, their jobs disappearing, wages stagnating, and future uncertain. To put them back to work, the nation would do well to consider Walla Walla, which seems to have cracked the code on how to get mid-skill workers back into the labor force while revitalizing an economy.”
You can learn more about how Walla Walla have achieved this by looking at the film below, or by clicking here to see Doug’s presentation in full, which also includes a great case study on Monroe College.
Partnerships: LEPs & Colleges Growing Local Economies Together
Our final presentation of the morning was given by Henry Lawes, who is the West of England LEP’s Education Partnership Manager. Henry began by talking about economic growth, and the components that are needed to bring this about. Basically it boils down to four elements: businesses/employers; a workforce; clients; and infrastructure/housing.
After giving a brief overview of the economic situation in the West of England, Henry focused on the need for LEPs and colleges to work more closely together, and to work smarter together. Why? Because together they both offer something that the other needs to achieve their overarching goal of increasing local growth. So for example, colleges need a better understanding of the skills gaps that employers are facing in the area; LEPs need colleges to have a curriculum that is responsive to local business/employer needs.
In the West of England, the partnership between the LEP and the colleges is very strong, being cemented by a Joint Venture Agreement, regular contact and support at senior management level, and meetings between all the Vice Principles in the area with the LEP every six weeks. This has meant that between them, they have been able to tackle issues such as apprenticeships, CEIAG, and curriculum development.
How does such a relationship come about, and how is it then sustained? According to Henry, there are four components:
- Mutual understanding and trust
- Both parties being be aware of each others priorities and interest
- Understanding what each others area of expertise is and what you both bring to the table
- Establishing mutual expectations
You can download Henry’s presentation here.