Further education colleges are fundamental to the flow of skills into industry and the exponential growth of green jobs is creating huge opportunities for them and their learners if they can seize them. In the Local London region alone, there is a projected rise of between 61,000 and 91,000 green jobs over the next seven years.
From electric vehicle charging and heat pumps to retrofitting and smart infrastructure, the scope for exciting new job opportunities is immense, but developing new training programmes and finding the right people to deliver these can be challenging. There is also widespread need for capital investment to fund new facilities.
As a green consultancy, we have been working with Local London Green Skills and Jobs Partnerships to ascertain how the needs of green industry employers can be better met by colleges. Comprising 13 FE Colleges across the region, together with local authorities and employers, the partnership (funded by the DfE’s Strategic Development Fund) is working to ensure that people are provided with the skills and tools they need to access the many green jobs of the future.
As part of this work, we looked at and considered each college’s facilities as well as staff training, curriculum and industry engagement. These are all vital elements of a college’s ability to effectively deliver green skills training.
Each of the colleges we visited have clearly made great strides around green skills provision. The majority have received capital equipment funding and have installed equipment required to support the new green skills-focused curricula. Yet challenges remain for many around lack of space, resources and recruitment of teaching staff.
Many staff are keen to upskill, yet 74 per cent of teachers felt they needed more support to build the wider subject knowledge needed for the new qualifications. Confidence around new technologies needs to be built and staff supported with high quality CPD from industry experts.
A real positive from our engagement with over 100 employers and other stakeholders is that more than half are keen to get involved and play their part.
This is a good start, but more needs to be done for us all to benefit from the many opportunities that the net zero goal and its associated policies offer and to meet the challenge of climate change mitigation.
To keep building on this foundation, we have developed three key recommendations for ensuring colleges are well placed to play their part.
Collaboration and partnership working
While engagement with employers in FE is widespread and positive, smaller colleges often lack the dedicated resource to drive employer engagement. Partnerships between colleges can provide so much benefit here, supporting institutions of all sizes with more structured access to employers and ensuring equity of opportunity for students.
Accessing new sources of funding can also be better achieved in a partnership set up, with specific joint initiatives offering much greater impact. This is also the case for careers information, advice and guidance, and for communications and marketing campaigns which all benefit from combined expertise, funding and support.
In addition, partnerships offer strengthened CPD and cross-college training through sharing of best practice, facilities and expertise. Delivery of curriculum pathways can be also be coordinated across colleges and aligned to learner needs, facilities and staff expertise.
A dedicated plan of action
The example of the Local London region suggests identifying two or three key areas of excellence for a region to specialise in, such as retrofit and EV charging, is beneficial. This focus creates the opportunity to become a centre of excellence for a specific growth area, which in turn supports increased industry and expert engagement.
Adaptability built in
The green skills sector is moving at great pace. To keep up, a frequent and structured review of new technologies on the horizon and employers’ current and future needs are as fundamental as keeping abreast of ever-changing FE policy and qualification reform.
FE’s work to support green skills is encouraging, but we must build more momentum to ensure the workforce of the future is equipped to meet the needs of a net zero economy.
And to do that, we must leverage the power of collective working.