Today’s announcement confirms that technical education should be at the heart of the UK’s modern industrial strategy. This is crucial, as only with an adequate skills strategy can we respond to the needs of industry at the same time as we help equip learners with the skills in demand from local employers.
Getting technical education right is critical for the economy of this country; it is the only way to address our growing productivity and skills gaps and offers a solution not only to the ever-changing needs of industry, but also for millions of people across the country for whom a qualification for in-demand skills will be a lifeline into work. It is now for the FE Sector to grasp the opportunity.
Over the last year, Collab Group and its member colleges have been working with government, bringing ideas and potential solutions to create successful Institutes of Technology that will deliver quality STEM education across the country. We are pleased that many of our ideas, such as placing these new Institutes within existing providers in a hub and spoke model, and overlaying the priorities and recommendations given by the Sainsbury Review with those of the Post-16 Skills Plan are being adopted by government.
We must now look at the structure of Institutes of Technology to ensure they deliver on their promise.
It is now for the FE Sector to grasp the opportunity
There is a need for local provision of strong level 4 and 5 STEM provision built around robust and credible technical education pathways aligned to wider macro-economic goals; this idea is a principle of the Sainsbury Review and is central to the industrial strategy announcements today. An Institute of Technology built on this basis could be made up of individual elements such as: a focus on technical STEM pathways and level 4 and 5 provision, a key role for industry and employers, utilising existing resources in FE Colleges, Universities and Training Providers rather than establishing new institutions, and effectively utilising technology. Combined, these would create a resilient, adaptable and commercially viable institution. The level of co-ordination and system-wide planning that an Institute of Technology would be able to leverage would make it uniquely responsive to local economic demands and priorities.
Applying this model to an Institute of Technology will offer provision aligned to local economic priorities and fill a gap in the market, rather than creating yet another supplier from the ground up; it can build on the existing asset bases and utilise local resources that are already operational. Existing providers should group together under the Institute of Technology banner, bringing their local knowledge and expertise to co-ordinate provision with employers around local needs.
Productive employer relationships must form a key part of Institutes of Technology. Employers should be involved in all aspects from design, implementation and delivery—through co-creation of curriculums, building pathways to employment and providing robust and credible careers advice to learners. The Institute of Technology will take on a vital role providing the primary interface between students and employers; as well being as uniquely placed to respond and adapt to market forces and changing skills demands, the Institute of Technology will act as a trusted broker, linking employers with students and ensuring that both sides have the information and resources they need.
The benefits of Institutes of Technology are clear: they will provide a way to deliver high-quality training within the sectors that are most vital to the long-term productivity and capacity needs of the UK economy. They will allow local resources to be utilised effectively through harnessing existing asset bases and local as well as national knowledge and expertise.
Today Theresa May said: “Our action will help ensure young people develop the skills they need to do the high-paid, high-skilled jobs of the future.” The productivity gap needs to be addressed in a systematic and co-ordinated way; the Sainsbury Review and Post-16 Skills Plan are a step in the right direction, the government announcements today are another step forward. Real government engagement and support, clear direction and a belief in the importance of this mission are further important steps, and could mean that we can finally make significant progress on the right path towards a skills system that works for learners as well as our economy.
Ian Pretty is CEO of the Collab Group of colleges