College leaders who are both principals and chief executives may not fully understand both parts of their role according to a report published today (Tuesday April 29).

The report, A New Conversation: Employer and College Engagement, by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), The 157 Group and Gazelle, questioned whether dual principals and chief executives were certain of what the latter element of their role entailed.

It warned principals needed to understand their role as business leaders in order to communicate effectively with employers.

The report said: “We… noted that many college principals use ‘chief executive’ in their title and when questioned described how they saw themselves having two distinct roles: the academic leader and the business leader.

“We wondered whether more is needed to understand what being a business leader means in this context.”

The information in the 24-page report was compiled through a series of interviews, an online survey, workshops and college visits over the large 12 months.

The report said: “Not surprisingly leadership came out as the most important ingredient in a college’s ability to contribute to and drive economic growth.”

It also made recommendations for future leadership development programmes such as those currently being developed through Education and Training Foundation.

“We put forward the view that all major development programmes for further education leaders should include the knowledge and skills required to understand the market within which the college operates and to position the college effectively,” said the report.

John Cridland, UKCES Commissioner and director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said he hoped the paper would “initiate a wider discussion”.

He said: “Building stronger bonds between colleges and employers is no easy task.

“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.”

It added that there was also a part for governors to play in helping principals to understand both sides of their role.

It said: “Governors make a range of contributions to the leadership of a college but we believe that there is more that can be gained, especially from those governors that come directly from the business world.

“Effective business governors can help colleges understand local business needs in much more depth, and, using their networks, spread the word among employers about how colleges contribute to the local economy.

“They bring clarity about direction, targets, priorities and expectations, challenging managers on what employer engagement really means in practice.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of The 157 Group, said: “The 157 Group hope this seminal report will radically shift and improve employer and college strategic conversation and partnerships.

“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.”

Apart from the issue of dual principals and chief executives, the report identified “discussion topics” for the sector, including the importance of the college in contributing to its economic community, college’s credibility with employers in relation to its offer and the need for employers to familiar with that offer and the college itself.

Fintan Donohue, chief executive of Gazelle, 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.”