The sector has long prided themselves on having ‘excellent relationships’ with employers. Accordingly, colleges around the country have been collaborating on a level not seen before to help tackle skills gaps. Whether it’s via apprenticeship provision, work placements or some curriculum delivery, there is no doubting the value that strong, industry partnerships can have on students’ learning and progression.
And many employers recognise the benefits of engaging with colleges; enabling them to secure their future skills needs and influence the types of skills and behaviours being taught to the next generation of experts.
Government skills policy has always been focused on the need for employers and educators to collaborate. The apprenticeship act of 1964 established the framework for young people to receive practical training alongside their academic education – and FE colleges have continued to play a crucial role, designing courses with local employers to meet the specific skills requirements of a regional workforce.
There has been a growing emphasis on collaboration between higher education institutions and employers too. Degree apprenticeships are well regarded, together with research and development opportunities and work placements being integrated into HE programmes.
The more recent apprenticeship levy and development of T Levels have further reflected the government’s support for employer-led training, and the fundamental role it needs to play in the growth of the economy.
So, at first glance, the introduction of LSIPs is not revolutionary in terms of employer-educator partnerships. Arguably, they’re just another take on encouraging organisations to work together, with the aim of getting more people into good jobs.
But having become fully immersed in developing the LSIF bid for the Local London region over the summer (which is our response to the LSIP), it’s clear that meeting the challenge of the skills crisis requires more than that.
What we have realised and learned through the LSIF process is just how much more can be achieved when working collaboratively with other colleges, HEIs, training providers and local authorities – as opposed to just linking up with employers.
Crucially, every organisation involved in this work has the same aim. We all want to meet employers’ skills demand, open up great local job opportunities for people in our communities and help support a thriving economy.
This goes beyond just working with employers. This is about breaking down barriers – including any concern about ‘competition’ between colleges. It is about working as a regional collective to maximise the funding available and develop effective proposals that will achieve the greatest possible impact for local people.
By joining up with 12 other FE colleges across the Local London region, three universities, adult education providers, local authorities and many employers – we have been able to collectively design an approach that will address green and digital skills gaps across our whole region.
This process has not been straightforward. It has taken time and, most importantly, has required genuine drive and commitment from every partner to make it work.
But the skills crisis is not going away. We need to create a system that can operate with greater agility to meet the rapidly changing needs of the workforce. This isn’t just about qualifications; it’s about training people in the way that employers need, to respond to their ever-changing operating environment.
Our focus on digital and green skills is just one example, but the picture is the same across multiple industry sectors.
Colleges are expert collaborators; we understand the needs of our students and we can adapt and flex to meet the needs of businesses. But discrete college-employer partnerships alone are no longer enough to close the rapidly expanding skills gap.
Genuine engagement with stakeholders across the whole skills ecosystem – including local authorities, funding agencies and all types of education providers – is crucial if we are to develop, create and sustain long-term solutions and secure the necessary funding.
What’s more, by creating this collaboration blueprint, we will have a far greater ability to influence and shape policy moving forward. The Local London LSIF is proof that there is strength in numbers and shows just how much impact can be achieved when people are committed to achieving a shared aim.