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FE Environment & Challenge

Report Segment: FE Environment

FE has sometimes had a hard time convincing the world that it can respond to employers needs. Train to Gain contracts haven’t always helped their cause: free training, for NVQ work based training isn’t necessarily the same as meeting an employer’s needs for training. What is free may not be valued and what is delivered to prescribed pre-defined contracts (NVQ outcomes) can appear more of a supply led initiative rather than a demand led outcome.

Moreover, Train to Gain government funding has opened up the market place – so that all kinds of fast response, lean suppliers of training could compete for a slice of LSC ‘business’. Colleges with their core, full time 16-19 year old market needing to come first – have sometimes lost out to smaller more employer focused providers. And even when they have got the business, and its been delivered well, that doesn’t guarantee that the employer will come back for other kinds of training, e.g. full cost short courses, delivering specific skills to the workplace. It is too easy for FE to be ‘type-cast’ as deliverers of government funded training and nothing more.

There is a further problem for further education colleges: FE is often seen as a panacea for all of society’s needs which have not been met at school or which university has no place for. So colleges are charged with tackling social exclusion, and some have worn this particular badge with pride and determination to address inequality in their communities. But this doesn’t necessarily help the perception of the college as a ‘first port of call’ for businesses wanting training. Indeed it may work against the college – so that it is perceived as a bastion against social deprivation rather than as a place for “doing business”.

Aside from the social inclusion argument, colleges are places where young people go to learn a skill. This full time provision is the core work of FE – the 80% which needs to be nurtured. Having time and resources to focus on the 20% - upskilling the UK workforce can be onerous – and at times is in direct conflict with mainstream full time provision (e.g. allocating space in the college). And of course, a place which is 80% occupied by young people is going to look like an institution for teenagers – not a resource for businesses.

So before we even start to talk about quality, it is fair to say that FE faces an uphill struggle just to get a seat at the workforce training table.