Months of waiting for the official birth of the Learning and Work Institute came to an end on New Year’s day. Its chief executive, David Hughes, outlines the future of the organisation and also his view of what’s in store for the sector it serves.

As we start a new year, FE colleges in England are facing enormous challenges not just from funding cuts, but also from radical reforms that will fundamentally change the face of the sector. Those changes require a whole new mindset, a new set of relationships and new approaches for everyone involved in learning, skills and employment.

So what better time to be launching a new organisation dedicated to creating a world in which everyone is be able to realise their potential and ambitions in life, learning and work? Perhaps more practically, the Learning and Work Institute will build on the proud and successful history of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace) and the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion in researching what works, influencing policy, developing new ways of thinking and helping to implement new approaches.

In a more devolved environment, our support will become even more important to ensure lessons learned in one area are shared with others. And as the call for more integrated employment, skills and health services gets ever louder, our expertise and experience will be invaluable.

But let’s not lose sight of the enormous challenges facing colleges and independent learning providers (ILPs). The apprenticeship levy, advanced learning loans for 19+ and devolved commissioning of the Adult Education Budget as well as employment services fundamentally change the game.

As we research what works and develop new approaches, we will share our findings and use the evidence to improve policy both nationally and locally

Employers and learners will become paying customers, quite literally, and the days of funding allocations and contracts with national agencies will become a part of the rich history of FE. Some may even look back wistfully at the good old days of the Learning and Skills Council despite its shortcomings.

As customers, learners and employers will inevitably behave differently — that’s what has happened in higher education following the introduction of higher levels of loans. The new customers might want more information about the outcomes of their investment — a job, pay progression, productivity increase, perhaps. Learners will want the provider to be clear about how the learning fits with the local labour market and what employers think of a qualification. Both employers and learners might want more flexible delivery, with a blended approach which utilises technology more effectively.

With devolution, local commissioners will be looking for more integration of learning and skills with employment, health and other support. New relationships will be needed for providers to be able to join up support for unemployed people, low paid and for those with health and disability needs. Outcomes rather than qualifications will be the new language and tracking of learners after they leave will become the norm.

All of these demands will increase the pressure for innovation and investment just at the time when funding cuts are biting into margins and reserves are at record low levels. That’s why the Learning and Work Institute is an important part of the picture — what we do can help providers to navigate their way through these challenges and changes. As we research what works and develop new approaches, we will share our findings and use the evidence to improve policy both nationally and locally.

We will continue to be the national voice for lifelong learning. Our focus will remain on those who have missed out in compulsory education and the labour market, on the most disadvantaged, on equality and diversity. Our passion will continue to inspire, through the Festival of Learning and other campaigns, more people to believe in themselves and their ability to learn, develop and succeed. To achieve our ambitions we will work closely with colleges and training providers, just as Niace and Inclusion always have. Support for Learning and Work Institute is vital if we are to support more people to realise their ambitions and potential.

See FE Week edition 160, dated Monday, January 18, for coverage of the Learning and Work Institute’s official launch event set to take place tomorrow night in Canary Wharf