Employability is the added value that colleges can give learners — but just how well are they fulfilling this task? The Mindset Group of colleges is hoping it has developed a tool — free for UK-based colleges to use — that can assess how well colleges are performing on this, explains Lawrence Vincent.

As the Office for National Statistics figures released recently show another fall in the unemployment rate in the UK, you could be forgiven for thinking that the issues around youth unemployment were abating. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

In its August 2014 report Remember the Young Ones, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) puts the figure of unemployed young people at 868,000 with the startling figure that those under 25 were three-and-a-half times more likely to be out of work.

The think tank has acknowledged that the Coalition has attempted to tackle the issues around youth unemployment, but that it had “failed to grasp the extent of the problem, or had not had the imagination to come up with better solutions”.

Youth unemployment is not just a UK phenomenon, but European countries with strong work-based vocational education and training see a smoother transition from education into work and consequently lower rates of youth unemployment.

The IPPR also cautioned that even a full economic recovery was unlikely to see the problems of youth unemployment disappear recommending that employers and educational institutions needed to improve their relationships.

European countries with strong work-based vocational education and training see a smoother transition from education into work and consequently lower rates of youth unemployment

That’s not to say some organisations are not doing so already. Facing an often poor perception, FE colleges are conscious of the need to do more to improve the employability of their students, whether it is improving external links or their more general internal provision. In order to make these improvements, individual gaps in provision and areas of weakness need to be identified.

In order to address this need, The MindSet Group — a non-trading group of FE colleges — was set up to address both the perception and the reality of the FE sector and ultimately to help tackle the UK’s issues surrounding youth unemployment.

Currently made up of 12 FE colleges and employability and recruitment organisation REED NCFE, The MindSet Group aims to develop the sector’s employability competence through innovative solutions by the sector, for the sector. The members are Barnet Southgate College, Blackpool and The Fylde College, Bournemouth & Poole College, Derby College, Harlow College, Portsmouth’s Highbury College, Milton Keynes College, North East Surry College of Technology, South Essex College, Stockport College, Sunderland College and Telford College.

The first of these solutions is the Student Employability Toolkit (Set) — a tool that can be used free, for a whole-college employability review which has been developed by four members of The MindSet Group; Bournemouth & Poole College, Derby College, Highbury College and Milton Keynes College.

It has been created to assist in developing the reputation and positioning of the FE sector in relation to its role with employers in the future of the UK economy, through both self-assessment and knowledge sharing.

Members of The MindSet Group believe UK FE colleges need to grasp the employability initiative, bringing solutions, guiding policy and informing debate by working together to improve the employability of the UK’s students and this begins with sharing knowledge and identifying gaps in provision.

Only by working together will we help our young people achieve their full potential.

MindSet launched its employability toolkit — the Set — last month with two regional events in Derby and Bournemouth and then three events this month in London, Sunderland and Stockport.

Go to www.themindset.org.uk for more details, or come and see us at our stand at the Association of Colleges conference.