Apprenticeships: A New Approach
The fourth talk in our conference was given by Mark Emerson, who is the Assistant Principal at Stratford-upon-Avon College. Part of Mark’s role at the College is to make sure that it is responsive, innovative and supporting the local community, with particular emphasis on employer engagement, work based learning, marketing and commercial development, and — crucially given the new FE environment — apprenticeships.
Mark began by setting the scene, which in many ways looks quite bleak. Funding cuts have hit the sector hard and are set to continue; Area Reviews have meant that many colleges are focussing on survival; a high proportion of colleges are currently running a deficit budget. On top of all this, the Government has signalled that apprenticeships will take priority over classroom-based training. However, employers are not currently showing much inclination to actually pay for the training.
The challenge for a college like Stratford is in taking the apprenticeship provision, which currently makes up about 2% of the College’s delivery, to around 30%. This is clearly a huge jump, but how is it possible to get there?
Perhaps the biggest issue that Mark highlighted was that of more effective communication. Quite simply, employers are finding apprenticeships confusing, and colleges need to do a better job of getting across what apprenticeships actually are — a job with a training package attached — and why they are of benefit to the employer.
In terms of practical solutions, amongst other points, Mark emphasized the following:
- Colleges should work together and potentially pool resources, in order to centralise apprenticeship provision and develop better a delivery mechanism
- There is a need for robust Labour Market Intelligence as part of informing delivery planning
- Colleges and employers need to see each other as partners and work better together
- A big cultural change is required where local communities, partners, governors, employers and LEPs all need to value the role Further Education has in their future
You can download Mark’s full presentation here.
New Strategies: Sharpening Your Business Model
Our fifth speaker was Mark Cook, who is a Director of the independent consultants, FE Business. Mark began by saying that rather than talking about strategy, as such, he wanted to first emphasise something that is much more important, without which no strategy can be really successful. That is culture.
Why is culture so important? According to Mark, whereas strategies can be copied from college to college, there is simply no way to duplicate a culture. Moreover, without the right culture, even if you were to copy the most successful strategy out there, it wouldn’t be successful. Having said that, he went on to point out that a good culture will not compensate for poor strategic decisions. In other words the order is this: get your culture right first, but don’t neglect good strategy.
But what does a successful “commercial culture” look like in FE? Mark went on to outline a number of elements of a successful employer responsive culture, including creating a shared vision for Employer Engagement; defining “preferred” values and behaviours; and involving the whole organisation. You might summarise this as the desire to create an outward looking, business-minded vision within the College, and with excellent communication across the whole institution to work towards the goal.
For more from Mark’s talk, you can download his presentation here.
Looking to the Future: Opening up New Opportunities
The final presentation was given by Jane Horridge, Commercial Director at Milton Keynes College. Jane began by highlighting the growing productivity gap which is plaguing Britain, saying that addressing this problem is really what the Area Reviews are all about.
Jane went on to outline some of the specific problems Milton Keynes College have identified as they seek to tackle the productivity problem, including the identification of skills gaps and shortages in key sectors, especially at higher technical/technician levels; the significant mismatches between what is being offered by schools and colleges in the area and what employers actually want; and a lack of communication between the supply and demand sides.
Milton Keynes are addressing the problem by totally revamping their organisational structure away from a traditional “curriculum area” way of thinking, to a far more holistic model where what the College does is driven not by their own ideas of supply, but by actual demand and commercial considerations (see slides 8 and 9 of Jane’s presentation for more details).
Finally, Jane outlined some of the principles that are driving the thinking at Milton Keynes, and which all colleges should be thinking about developing in order to create and take advantage of new opportunities to thrive and grow productivity in the post-Area Review environment:
- Remove the reliance on government funding
- Develop new business models
- Allow a commercial, market and demand driven approach
- Use partnerships
- Deliver whole, and lifetime learning solutions
- Bridge the skills (and therefore productivity) gap
- Early talent pipelines and talent development