Colleges connecting with employers
The further education (FE) sector is often accused of hiding its light under a bushel. But not today, because I’m taking the opportunity to highlight college success. Colleges are at the heart of communities. They work with local communities and employers to ensure that the students they teach are provided with the skills and support needed to succeed in their chosen field of work. Today’s report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) highlights this. One of the stand out statistics from the ‘Catch 16-24’ report is that college leavers at 17 and 18-years-old are more prepared for work than those who leave school at the same age. The results found that 72% of college leavers were either well or very well prepared for the world of work, compared to 60% of school leavers. And this brings in an important point. Education post-16 should not be about solely getting people through their exams. It’s about ensuring they are properly prepared for their future life in employment, and this is the ethos of colleges across the country. Not only are college students better prepared, the research also found that they have the skills required by employers. It found that 20% of school leavers at 17 and 18 lacked the necessary work/life experience, compared to 14% of college leavers at the same age. The reason for this is simple - colleges work with local businesses to understand their needs. In fact, today’s report highlights that FE colleges are more interested in engaging with businesses than both schools and universities. But there is still more that can and should be done. For me, the answer to improving these figures, alongside the wider question of tackling youth unemployment, is held within AoC’s manifesto. In particular, there is a need to ensure there is proper careers education in the curriculum and appropriate careers advice and guidance, based on what the individual wants to achieve and not on the hope of holding on to as many bodies as possible to boost funding. Beyond that though, there’s the need to improve soft skills – those that employers want, and expect, from new starters. We believe the development of a pre-apprenticeship scheme will be a big step to achieving this. Today’s report from UKCES highlights the critical role colleges have in developing the next generation, and how well they are doing it. Let’s be proud of this. Gill Clipson is the Deputy Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges. This issue is being discussed at AoC's New Localism and Devolution Conference: Meeting the skills needs on 7 October 2015.