Employers and colleges should talk more

New report hopes to ignite stronger links between colleges and employers to better equip both to combat rising skills shortages

The publication ‘A new conversation: Employer and college engagement’ is the result of 12 months of interviews, surveys and workshops carried out by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), 157 Group and the Gazelle Colleges Group – and highlights the real benefits of greater strategic interaction between colleges and employers.

Recent findings in the UKCES 2013 Employer Skills Survey show that the number of vacancies where employers could not find skilled recruits has doubled from 63,100 in 2011 to 124,000 in 2013 – showing the need for recruits with the right skills is higher than ever.

John Cridland CBE, CBI Director-General and UKCES Commissioner said: “Building stronger bonds between colleges and employers is no easy task, but with the launch of this new paper we hope to initiate a wider discussion and create a better future for all.

“By forging more links between local colleges and firms in their area, we can help ensure that colleges produce students with the skills and characteristics employers need to thrive.”

Businesses which already have close ties to colleges in their local area cite a range of benefits, including early identification of young talent, developing a local workforce with values that fit business needs and making use of colleges to provide training they are unable to offer.

Colleges can also support businesses with tools such as analysis of labour market intelligence, guidance on accessing the skills system and tailoring skills solutions to meet specific needs in the local area. Meanwhile case studies have shown colleges which have high-level relationships with employers, business representatives on governing bodies and a whole college narrative about their role and purpose are often recognised as playing a significant role within their economic community.

Fintan Donohue, Chief Executive of Gazelle Global Ltd said: “Gazelle, 157 and UKCES are united in the desire to see colleges engage more strategically and imaginatively with employers. The report highlights the value of entrepreneurial leadership and the need for curriculum that prepares students for self-employment and independence as well as skilled employment.

“It challenges complacency and urges action. Gazelle Colleges are self-critical of their own approach to employer engagement and they therefore welcome the challenges in the report and the agenda it is setting.”

The paper also poses a number of discussion topics, set out in the form of four key statements, and calls on employers and colleges to use them as a starting point for discussion on collaboration going forward. They are:

  • The primary purpose of a college is to contribute to its economic community
  • College leaders need to develop new types of skills and higher levels of entrepreneurship if they are to succeed in strategic partnerships with employers
  • The credibility of colleges with employers is tied up with what they offer
  • Employers need to get to know their local college and what it has to offer, and be better at articulating their future workforce plans

‘The 157 Group hope this seminal report will radically shift and improve employer and college strategic conversation and partnerships,” said Lynne Sedgmore CBE, Executive Director of 157 Group.

“Our intention, with UKCES and Gazelle, is to raise the game of all colleges through challenging questions and new ambitions. We know how important it is to expand the good work already being done as well as supporting colleges to play an even more powerful role in LEPs and localities.’

Click here to read A New Conversation: Employer and College Engagement



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