With a very competitive business market and unemployability at high levels for young people, I believe it is important that we try to maximise educational opportunities and match learners’ skills with business needs as best as possible.
We need to ensure learners have the best possible chance of securing a job in the current marketplace and to do this I feel that the further education sector needs to develop a more holistic approach to employer engagement. In my understanding the key to doing this successfully lies in the following steps:
- Market analysis
- Identifying course need
- Implementing course design
- Presentation and delivery of the course
- Gathering feedback to inform future needs and requirements.
Employer engagement is an important part of this, as colleges can’t even begin to understand, never mind match, the needs of businesses without an open channel of communication. To help maintain these relationships colleges need to build relationships with local businesses, and ensure the right systems are available for course cataloguing, promotion, bookings, and of course staff training and customer service.
I think it would be good to approach businesses on the basis of “no point in complaining that further education colleges can’t provide what you’re looking for if you don’t let them know what it is you’re looking for!”
The benefits of this approach for colleges would be a raised profile within the local community and hopefully with more targeted courses a rise in learner uptake. For learners, I would hope they would improve the chances of securing a job and have an increase in opportunity to participate in work experience placements during their training.
Well after I’ve got that off my chest, the question is what would the successful process of matching students and course development with employer needs look like? I think it would mean cultural change within colleges, resulting in a new approach to employer responsiveness; equally it would be important to see employers responding to the challenge.
I believe much of this could be accomplished through the development of a single skills economy platform, but it would require concerted effort to get employers, learners and learning providers singing from the same hymn sheet. I work at Trainagain and we have recently been working with JISC to create a ‘Skills Dashboard’, which I think may be one of the possible solutions. It provides concise information on what courses are being offered where, and the type of courses people are searching for.
As we develop this dashboard I hope to incorporate an employer feedback loop into the process to gain an understanding of what training employers would like. I want to encourage employers to anonymously submit skills gaps information so that colleges can see the volume of demand for a particular skill and respond accordingly. In my experience the need for this is a consistent theme from senior managers in further education, they wish to base their courses on the needs and skills required in the workplace.
The skills dashboard could create an online market place for the skills economy and offer colleges, employers and the wider community the opportunity to respond to supply and demand in a more immediate way than before. This could make a significant difference to the way workforce development is approached.
I hope you have found my thoughts on this topic useful during National Colleges Week and please do contact me if you would like to discuss. Fingers crossed for the future.