FE Week visits Poole for the launch of the Reed NCFE employability lab
L -R: Lawrence Vincent, Bournemouth and Poole College , James Reed, from Reed and David Grailey, NCFE
The unemployment crisis is a top priority for the coalition government.
With more than a million young people out of work, the focus is now increasingly shifting to the education sector, including FE, to help students successfully transition into the world of work.
A number of qualifications exist to try and help learners improve their employability skills, but very few actively engage with businesses and employers in the local area.
A new scheme by the awarding body NCFE, developed in partnership with Reed, was officially launched at Bournemouth & Poole College last week to show an alternative way of linking up students and jobs.
Lawrence Vincent, principal of Bournemouth & Poole College, introduced visitors to the new e-Lab facility, a series of classrooms designed to help learners search and apply for jobs.
“The e-Lab and our partnership with Reed NCFE is a radical new approach to employability,” Mr Vincent said.
“We have to face the fact that our sector is changing – these days we are being measured by how effective we are at placing our young people into employment.
“This is the measure by which we will be judged and expectations are high.”
The e-Lab has been open since January and registered more than 500 learners at the college.
We have to face the fact that our sector is changing – these days we are being measured by how effective we are at placing our young people into employment”
Students develop their CV and interview skills during the employability qualification, but can also speak to the Reed NCFE employment brokerage team about the type of work they’re ideally looking for.
The team, which consists of three full-time staff members, will then try and seek out job openings relevant to their qualification or area of interest, often by liaising with local employers.
The job brokerage service will also try and persuade the company to advertise the role exclusively through the college, before offering the position back to the learner.
Mr Vincent admitted in his opening speech that the college partnered with Reed and NCFE partly because his staff were ill-equipped to give advice on the current job market.
“We have about 1,000 dedicated staff here at Bournemouth & Poole College but about 90 per cent have been here for five years and 95 per cent have been here for ten or more years,” he said.
“As good as they are, they cannot, with the best will in the world, be in the best position to know what is required by employers of the students in the ever-changing world of work.
“It is an inconvenient truth that we do need help of the kind offered by partnerships with successful and experienced organisations such as Reed NCFE.”
Ryan Cooper, a student at the college studying electronics and engineering, was one of the first to register with the e-Lab.
View on the way into the new brand new e lab facility | Students working hard in the new e lab centre
He said: “Almost immediately after I registered and was introduced to my Reed NCFE advisor, the calls from potential employers started coming in.
“Within a few days I was actually offered a post which would give me work experience alongside my studies.”
He added: “The advisors are really supportive.
“This is a fantastic way to look for openings and It should be taken up by other FE colleges.”
Geoff Russell, chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), was scheduled to give a speech on the morning of the launch.
However, Mr Russell was unable to attend due to illness, but gave the following comment: “This is an inspiring example of how FE is responding creatively, flexibly and dynamically to the demands of employers, learners and local communities.
“The REED NCFE Partnership and the college’s new e-Lab are clear evidence of how the FE sector is uniquely placed to help overcome the economic and social challenges we currently face.
“This initiative sends out strong signals to both employers and students that the right skills in the right place at the right time are the answer the economy needs.”
Steve Wentworth, a skills consultant at Bournemouth & Poole College, said that in the past local employers had been reluctant to take on British people.
The introduction of the scheme by Reed NCFE however, he said, was starting to change people’s perceptions of the college to one of being a reliable source of employment.
“If I’ve spoken to an employer in the hospitality sector about taking on a British person, I’ve had quite a negative response right away,” Mr Wentworth said.
The jobs tree brings colourful opportunity to the new e lab | L -R: David Grailey, NCFE, James Reed, from Reed and Lawrence Vincent, Bournemouth and Poole College
“But now we’ve got this, the Reed NCFE partnership with Bournemouth & Poole College, the interest has been incredible.”
He added: “if you look at the Reed brand with Bournemouth & Poole College, together that really does give some credibility to what we’re trying to do with the e-labs.
“That, along with the employability qualification, gives an added reassurance to employers which is just something they’ve never had.
“So I do think that overall we’re seeing a real shift in people’s perceptions.”
NCFE began working on the concept shortly before the Conservative party came into power, foreseeing youth unemployment and job outcomes as a high-level policy for both the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the SFA.
The awarding body assigned Alistair Downes, director of business development at NCFE, to develop the model for six months before approaching Reed as a partner.
David Grailey, chief executive of NCFE, said: “If you look at the work Reed has done on Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contracts, as well as for welfare-to-work, they’re one of the best performers.
“So we met with James Reed, as well one of his managing directors and we said to him, ‘we have this idea and we would like you to be our partners because you have not only the knowledge and experience of working in the education sector but also the recruitment expertise.’”
Mr Grailey said the scheme at Bournemouth & Poole College, which combines both an employability qualification and recruitment, is unique for the FE sector.
“The idea that you can take a learner and you can teach them to understand that if they have the right mind-set that can give them an advantage in the recruitment world and help them identify jobs which they want, as well as having the opportunity to track them while they’re in the job, that end to end solution, I’m not aware of any other on the market,” Mr Grailey said.
He added: “There are variations of the idea, but not many people are doing the specific qualifications around mind-set, which we think is critically important to making those learners competitive.”
James Reed, chairman of the Reed group of companies, said it was important the sector did more to prepare young people for work.
“The worst thing is that people leave college or school, go onto benefits and then we have to get them from welfare to work,” Mr Reed said.
“It’s far, far better that they go from college or school directly to employment, and that is what this is focused on doing.”
Learners get hands on with e lab facilities
Learners enrolled on the BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Applied Science, specialising in either medical science or forensic science, were using the e-lab facilities on the morning of the launch.
Bournemouth & Poole College has strong ties with the forensic science department at Bournemouth University, but also encourages students to think about their future job prospects.
Ellen Bryant, lead forensic science lecturer at Bournemouth & Poole College, (pictured above, centre) said: “I think they all thought they could leave here and all be qualified medics, so it’s been a real eye opener for them to strive for what they want and actually think ‘I really want to do this and this is what I need to do’.
“So it’s making the pathway for them much clearer.”
Students are told not only to look for traditional, highly specialised jobs in their field, but also ‘quirky’ openings which are still medical or forensic science related.
“They have also been writing their own job adverts, including the qualities they would look for in somebody they would want to employ,” Ellen added.
“I think that’s important for them so that they understand that when they go for an interview next year – even if it’s for University – they know the qualities and the first impression they would be required to show.”
Imogen Young, (pictured above, left) a student at the college studying BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Applied Science (Medical Science), said: “I have looked at jobs in my own time but I think it’s good we get to do it in the college, because then we get more help with it.”
Tom Clarke, another student on the course added: “I can see how it will be useful for after we finish college and for people who haven’t already got a job, but I work part-time already, so in the short term it wouldn’t really help much.”
Forensic science and medical science are notoriously difficult industries to get into, and Mr Clarke says he does still appreciate the extra help from the college.
“There’s not a lot out there, so it could help a lot having this extra qualification,” he said.
“Having experience in knowing what’s going to happen will put us at an advantage to anyone else who hasn’t had the opportunity.”