Let’s start with the bad, if somewhat obvious, news. The last few months have taken a huge toll on people, businesses and organisations in this country and throughout many parts of the world. Not only that, but the measures that have been put in place to deal with Covid-19 are likely to have huge repercussions that will affect us economically and socially for years. How bad that economic fallout will be in terms of job losses and businesses closing is yet to be seen, but given some of the numbers coming out of countries where data is available — for instance in the US the numbers claiming unemployment have risen by more than 33 million in less than two months — it is unlikely to be anything other than severe.
For the Further Education sector, the strain has been enormous, with colleges having to switch to and adjust to a totally new way of working very quickly. However, it seems that by and large most colleges have been able to this very quickly — perhaps surprising themselves in the process.
But what of the future? How can colleges begin to plan a curriculum to serve a local economy which is undergoing huge changes? Put another way, how can a college begin to understand whether their current courses are fit for purpose in the very changed economic landscape?
Answering these questions requires breaking things down into a number of constituent parts:
- What is the overall shape of your local economy?
- How do your curriculum and individual courses reflect employer demand?
- Which employers do your courses relate to and what skills are they looking for?
Over the course of four parts, we want to look at these three issues in turn, and then in a final piece we’ll introduce you to a new and exciting way in which you can find answers to these questions in a simple, quick and intuitive way.
What is the overall shape of your local economy?
This might seem to be a somewhat odd question to ask, given that there is clearly a lot of flux going on in the labour market at the moment, and with so little public data yet available to show us exactly how things are shaping up. However, there are a couple of important points to note:
Firstly, local economies tend to have a high degree of what economists call “path dependency”, which basically means that even during and after downturns, they don’t tend to radically change their industry make up. For instance, an area with a high specialism in Vehicle and defence technology will not suddenly lose the infrastructure and workforce that has grown up to serve the industries within that cluster. It is likely, therefore, that when the economy returns to growth, these industries will probably once again have a significant presence.
Secondly, whilst there will be much about a local economy that will undoubtedly change or be disrupted, there are certain fundamentals that will not change overnight, such as the area’s demographics, workforce and educational levels.
For a college in this time of crisis, data about the fundamentals of their local economy is therefore still highly valuable in terms of providing a baseline from which to then go on to look at curriculum planning. In order to establish this baseline, we can turn to our data to get an overview, and for the purposes of illustrating this we’ll do this using the North Eastern LEP region as an example.
The Regional Workforce
Let’s begin by looking at the workforce in the region. Here we can see that there are over 1.2 million people in the area who are of working age, and of these almost 933,000 are in the workforce, with 887,000 employed and 46,000 unemployed:
We can also take a look at which industries these jobs are in, with the chart below showing employment at the 1-Digit Level of Standard Industry Classifications (SIC) in the area, compared to the national average. As you can see, the North Eastern LEP region has higher than average employment in sectors such as Human health and social work activities, Manufacturing, and Public administration and defence; compulsory social security, and this sort of insight will be valuable in the coming months, as more information comes through about which sectors have been hit the hardest, and therefore where the risks to unemployment are in the area, together with where there might be a need for upskilling and retraining:
Of course, these figures are likely to change significantly over the coming months, and our data will be updated with monthly claimant counts to reflect that. For colleges who use our data, this will therefore mean having the ability to keep updated on how employment is changing in specific jobs. For example, the graphic below shows claimant counts up to March for a number of occupations associated with the restaurant, pub and hospitality industries in the North Eastern LEP region, and although these figures do not include the period when these sectors were closed, having access to this data will mean being able to track the changes over the coming months, to see just how much a job or cluster of jobs has been affected:
For a college planning for the future, retraining those people that do lose their jobs into other occupations with a high degree of skills transferability — as we show here — may well prove to be a vital part of getting the local economy growing again.
Digging down past workforce characteristics, another feature that our data brings out, which is sure to be of interest to colleges, is that relating to educational attainment. Looking at the North East LEP area, we can see that 45.7% of its working age population have NVQ2 qualifications or below, which compares unfavourably with the rest of the UK, which has 35.2% of the population in these categories. Since it is likely that those hit hardest in the current crisis will be those with lower skills levels, this may well present opportunities for colleges in the area to promote the institution as a means for those with low qualifications to upskill, and for young people in the area to make sure they have the right qualifications to give themselves a better chance of getting and keeping a job at this time:
In-demand jobs and skills
One final thing to note in this first part, is how employer demand for jobs and skills are changing during the current crisis. For this, we can turn to our Job Postings Analytics (JPA) data, which harvests employer hiring from across tens of thousands of job boards, which are then deduplicated to identify unique postings and offer insights in terms of job titles, employers and locations. Looking at postings for April 2020, we can see that many of the jobs being sought after are in the Human health and social work activities sector (eg. Family support workers; Personal care assistants and Registered nurses), which is no doubt what we would have expected to see, given the current crisis. Additionally, we can also see that demand for HGV and LGV drivers is also significant, which again is something that we might have anticipated, given the current closure of shops and the consequent demand for online goods, but it is helpful to get some actual data to confirm this:
Since our JPA data is tagged to our skills extractor (see here for more details), this means that we can analyse job postings in an area over time to see how skills demand is changing. The graphic below shows the Top 10 skills for the North Eastern LEP region, by quarter, from February 2019 – April 2020, and it really does bring out some fascinating data in terms of showing how the current crisis is changing skills demand. For example, Nursing, Mental Health and Welfare have all risen in the last quarter, at the same time as skills such as Accounting and KPIs have trended downwards:
In our next piece, we’ll be moving beyond the economy to look at curriculum and courses in relation to employer demand, before then going on to look at employer demand and skills demand in a bit more detail in the third piece. In the final piece, we’ll introduce you to FE Analyst, a new tool that we have designed specifically with colleges in mind, which will enable your institution to access all the insights we are presenting — and much more — in one simple, intuitive workflow.
To find out more about how data can help your college plan for the future, we are hosting a webinar on 9th June, 11.00am. Join us for ‘Preparing Your College for the Future’ by clicking below.