Everyone is eagerly waiting the forthcoming White Paper – well most providers tuned in with strategy and vision will be. Let’s hope it delivers and provides some radical proposals in terms of the future role of Colleges across the wide spectrum of activities they are involved in.
The role of Colleges has been debated ever since they were incorporated in 1992. They have made great strides in being responsive to changing political agendas but their success with Skills and in particular Apprenticeships has been less than impressive. For those with apparent large volumes of Apprenticeships historically, the majority of it was sub-contracted to private providers and few, if any took the opportunity to capacity build from the partnerships that were established.
The same could be said of the Levy, College with their political connections and involvement with LEP’s and Devolved Government were ideally placed to capitalise on this opportunity but again there are few that succeeded.
I cannot help but conclude that success in other areas is a result of limited experience and skills of the SMT of most Colleges and in particular the College CEO. I cannot recall, but I remain open to be corrected of many CEO’s that have emerged from a business development or employer engagement background – it is about focus, not weakness.
In previous articles, I have advocated the core role that Colleges should and I believe will be advocated as playing within the White Paper. Indeed, I’m hearing that many Private Training Providers will be required to work much more closely with Colleges to avoid local competition and duplication of provision. Whilst there are advantages and disadvantages of such an approach – that is an article in itself, there are significant opportunities for providers to work together to benefit learners wanting a career.
Such models of collaboration and partnership have been tried in the past and did work – many of them didn’t attract much publicity, helpfully so because the sector media would have shot them down before they sprouted out of the ground.
I am hopeful that with an enthusiasm for success, with an understanding of the complementary skills all partners bring such as employer engagement – new models will emerge of progression and success.
I provide below a few examples of where collaboration could deliver benefit, reduce duplication and waste and optimise the use of assets – human and otherwise:
- Taking T-Levels and progression to Apprenticeships– it would be a shame if Colleges saw their roles end when the learner has completed their T Level, much in the same way in which Study Programmes often result in a learner leaving. Working together, successful T Level students provide sector relevant Apprenticeship opportunities – which if not the focus for the College, certainly will be for a local private training provider.
- Harnessing Employer Engagement Opportunities – I have advocated for many years, especially locally and regionally a focussed employer engagement service with a network of specialise providers in each sector – co-ordinated by the local College. Employers are fed up and don’t understand that they are bombarded by providers trying to sell when a more co-ordinated approach would reduce cost and provide a more joined up service. It can work if there is trust with all parties – but few have given it a try. Working together voluntarily rather than being forced to if preferable on all occasions and again ‘focus’ is key to success
- Utilising the ‘Asset’ – whilst many Colleges would argue that their physical assets are stretched to capacity, few could really justify operating for in the main 39 weeks a year and most of the premises closed for the remaining 13 weeks. A little creative thinking and timetabling, even curtailing some courses which are not a focus for the future will release resources enabling joint working. Outsourcing of some or all core business activities is the norm in the private sector – but not within Education! – but there are models where PTP’s have in the past worked successfully to develop sector focussed work academies, drawing upon employer relationships with Colleges to benefit opportunities for learners and sweat the asset more effectively – Certainly something to work on in 2021 and beyond, using the power of Local and National Brands to enhance participation and outcomes.
- Traineeships and Kick-start – whilst ESFA and other departmental processes encourage a tunnel approach to new initiatives – often given short timescales preventing the development of true partnerships, we can already see even more competition with both Kick-start and Traineeship procurement causing even more confusion for employers who struggle to themselves differentiate between an Apprenticeship, A Kickstarter or a Traineeship learner. I spend a lot of my time trying to get employers to understand – but it is complex to someone who is running a business, whatever the sector. Joining up providers with Colleges at the heart just may create a programme where the component parts create success.
All of this requires leadership and a spirit of co-operation. As we conclude 2020 and look forward some form of normality into 2021 whatever that means for us all – it is with genuine hope that the College sector take the opportunity of reaching out to the private training provider networks or where indeed a private training provider reaches out – there is at least a constructive debate with an agreed principle of co-operation – whatever that means.
Simple, small steps at least move us forward.
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