FE recruitment hasn’t changed for 20 years. This year it must

Anyone involved in recruitment across further education must face up to the challenges that lie ahead. Here are my predictions for what those trends and challenges might look like in 2024, and how to best navigate them.

Developing the workforce

According to the latest government data, 205,200 people work in FE, including 81,400 teaching staff and 7,100 leadership staff. Last year, almost 6 per cent of teaching positions and 3 per cent of management roles went unfilled.

To address this issue, it’s vital to develop recruitment that takes the candidate journey into account. This will not only ensure more effective recruitment, but will help the right people to find their way into the right roles. This in turn will also improve retention.

To that end, recruitment firms can be vital partners rather than mere suppliers. It’s important to get people quickly into roles to fill gaps. However, the most effective way to ensure a strong and reliable workforce is to strike a balance between sessional and permanent contracts. This helps to secure engaged and well-suited staff who can meet an institution’s needs for the long term.

Closing the revolving door

At present, recruiters provide a broadly one-dimensional service which does not attend to the full spectrum of the sector’s needs. This has helped contribute to a culture whereby candidates often don’t stay in post very long.

To combat this revolving door, it’s important that recruiters understand the specific needs of the business they’re supporting from top to bottom. This will allow them to create a personalised and caring candidate journey that will in turn reduce the chance that the door keeps revolving.

The other key factor here is reducing the number of basic mistakes that plague education recruitment. These include ensuring candidates have the right qualifications and checks for the role and get paid the right amount at the right time. Another common error is to simply wave goodbye to candidates once they’re placed. This can mean that people don’t feel valued and invariably head for the door.

Rise to the skills challenge

In 2024, the best candidates aren’t simply the best qualified, but those who can best keep pace with changing skills needs. This doesn’t just apply to education, but in any sector young people are aspiring to work in.

In many industries, younger people struggle to get hired because they lack the length of experience employers demand. Further education can’t afford to be such an industry and stands to gain a competitive edge by embracing early-career hires. Added benefits include the opportunity to develop and mould your workforce. Young candidates can also deliver energy and new ideas, especially in the areas of curriculum, data management and marketing.

With projections indicating that by 2025 Gen Z will make up roughly 30 per cent of the workforce, embracing the new generation is vital.

AI for a more human experience

Education recruitment is first and foremost a people business, but technology now has a big role to play. Smart chatbots can offer more efficient and effective engagement, and AI and machine learning have the potential to save time and cut down on tedious tasks. In this way, embracing AI could in fact allow more resources to be committed to running a personalised and engaging service.

Wellbeing as standard

In the modern workplace, potential recruits are far more focused on their wellbeing than ever before. Of course, employers have a huge responsibility to ensure high employee satisfaction, but recruitment firms have a big part to play too.

That starts with aiming to place the right person in the right job, so I often advise to avoid recruiters who treat the process as a game of numbers.

But the most important factor is to be proactive rather than reactive in meeting employees’ needs. Today’s workforce is increasingly on the look-out for flexibility, and while that isn’t always easy to deliver in education, your recruitment partner is the best port of call to help solve the issue.

The bottom line

Unfortunately, cutting costs will remain a priority this year for many in the sector. The key here is to remember that investing resources might cost more in the short term, but can save much more in the long term.

‘Prepared, not scared’: Why Ofsted should rethink inspection training

Ofsted’s latest changes to its inspection handbook are a further acknowledgement that inspection processes are coming under intense scrutiny following the tragic loss of Ruth Perry.

While Ofsted is taking steps to improve its internal practices and training, it is critical that nominees or provider staff feel confident to raise concerns and professionally challenge inspectors during or after the inspection. The inspectorate is also re-evaluating its complaints procedure, including a  new national helpline for leaders to raise concerns. The Fellowship of Inspection Nominees (FIN) advises providers how to make a complaint without fear or trepidation, but hopefully the need for this type of support will diminish.

But how does the inspectorate propose to reduce the stress and fear of inspection itself? Most comment on this absolves Ofsted and instead looks to the DfE to get rid of one-word judgments. I believe this misses an important change of approach the organisation could take today.

FIN promotes the mantra “prepared, not scared”, which helps to support nominees while also emphasising the importance of building resilience among staff. We have worked with providers to achieve this, improve learning provision before inspection and, where needed, we help to pick up the pieces following inspection.

It can be tough witnessing the extreme emotions, anxiety and devastation which a poorly-managed inspection or a negative outcome can have. Ofsted has now publicly recognised the importance of upskilling inspectors and raising awareness in identifying signs of stress and anxiety among education leaders and staff. As MPs have recommended, there should be more dialogue about this as part of the forthcoming ‘Big Listen’. 

The consultation should acknowledge that Ofsted has been critical of providers engaging in what is termed as ‘preparing for inspection’. It has discouraged providers reaching out for consultancy support, frowned upon inspection preparation training and has been horrified at the notion of a mock inspection. This stems primarily from concerns about additional workload and stress. However, we can only presume that it also reflects the inspectorate’s worry that such preparations might create an artificial environment, possibly leading to inaccurate assessments of the quality of education they provide.

It’s time for providers to take back control

In reality, as long as there is inspection, there will be inspection preparation. But it’s time for providers to take back control of that process. They should be focusing more on their own needs than Ofsted’s particular likes or dislikes, which can change over time as FIN’s tracking of inspection reports shows.

Inspection preparation programmes should allow providers to give targeted support for the nominee and the shadow nominee, and to train their staff to gain confidence in showcasing their provision. Programmes should also focus on preparing staff to deal with the pressures associated with inspections, fostering resilience. Indeed, it is arguably far more dangerous to mental health to send teams into a high-stakes test without this kind of preparation.

The concept of TCUP (Thinking Clearly Under Pressure) should be at the forefront of this training, concentrating on maintaining composure, presenting evidence and making informed decisions during high-pressure situations. When provider staff fully understand the triangulation of required evidence and measuring impact, it helps to demystify inspection. Equipping staff with these tools will not only impact positively on the provision but will also help to make the inspection experience far less challenging.

Our experience with providers is that practice interviews or a quality review are insightful, motivational and a proven method of resilience building. Collaborative working groups are extremely beneficial with nominees coming together for professional exchange and talking through challenges. Following inspection too, nominees and staff should share their experiences, what they did or did not do well and what they would do differently.

Ofsted’s approach to inspection training is at best naïve, based on the vain hope of seeing providers as they truly are. It should shift to a more mature model that respects preparation as a positive part of the improvement process and a protective measure for staff.

MPs have highlighted a number of other issues which should be considered as part of the ‘Big Listen’. The sector should not waste the opportunity to help shape a more positive environment surrounding quality assurance.

Using everyday tech to support learners with additional needs

Despite the digital age, mobile phones continue to be a rare sight in both mainstream and specialist classrooms. Here at The Oaks, a specialist college for 18-to-25-year-olds with additional learning needs in Kent, East Sussex and surrounding areas, we are embracing mobile phone technology to support our learners.

We are actively fostering an environment where every-day, readily-accessible smart technology rather than expensive, specialist software or hardware bridges barriers to engagement and participation in learning and daily tasks.  We aim to create digitally empowered young people who have autonomy over their independence.

Personalising user settings and practising skills on learners’ own mobile devices increases the likelihood that they will generalise skills to activities beyond the college day. We are therefore building a curriculum where learners are supported to access the incredible power of their own smartphone, irrespective of their learning profile.

The power in their pocket

By using a phone’s read-aloud features, or apps such as Microsoft or Google Lens, a learner can overcome difficulties with literacy by listening to text rather than reading it, choosing a speaking rate that they are best able to understand.

Exploring text size as well as screen brightness, colour and contrast increases the opportunity for learners with visual differences to engage.

Enabling dictation on the device allows a learner’s speech to be converted to text and reduces literacy difficulties related to spelling as well as fine motor difficulties which may be a barrier to typing. 

Practising the use of alarms, calendars and reminders increases responsibility and reduces reliance on other adults for those who experience memory challenges. 

Translation apps reduce barriers for those for whom English isn’t their first language. 

Using QR codes within learning tasks demystifies them when seen in the wider community.

While it may appear common-sense that these features can support a wide range of different learning profiles, our observation is that learners do not typically have experience of using them before arriving with us.

By exposing our learners to them and demonstrating their practical application, we enable them to make autonomous informed decisions about which skills will be helpful to them.

A learning jounrey

Our curriculum is influenced by the unique needs of our community and is developed by teaching and therapeutic staff working in close partnership to ensure the content is relevant within the college and beyond. 

We introduce learners who are newer to these skills in fun ways: cheating at quizzes, accessing jokes through QR codes, exploring our on-site smart flat to use the automatic vacuum cleaner, the smart doorbell and smart speaker.

And we support those who are closer to the end of their college journey to practise these skills in the community or in work placements, for example by using bus apps to plan journeys, reading ready-meal labels in a shop or accessing a customer feedback form via a QR code and dictating their responses.

This approach delivers meaningful outcomes which increase our learners’ confidence and independent living skills: reading a menu independently rather than have it read aloud by others at the table, communicating confidently with a member of the public in another language and sharing the skill of digital translation with new colleagues, checking the allergens in the small print of food packaging in spite of a visual impairment, or reading a bedtime story to a younger sibling for the first time.

We have learners who choose to dictate their college work and those who prefer to type. Some use smart assistants to take responsibility for checking spellings and key information. Others have overcome their reduced literacy to engage and contribute to social media conversations with their friends.

Skills for life

Our vision is to ensure that every learner makes clear progress and they are respected and valued in their community, confident and able to contribute to society. By actively shaping a curriculum and community that harnesses the use of smartphone assistive and accessibility technology, we are ensuring our learners are equipped to overcome potential barriers for life.

We use free apps and accessibility features embedded within smartphones and laptops.  These features have applications far beyond the specialist education sector and are available to anyone who has a smartphone or laptop. 

Each class group is a unique community of differing learning profiles, needs and preferences; consider how adopting some of the accessibility features may enhance learner experience within your classroom.

Working with employers to make apprenticeships more accessible to autistic learners

According to government statistics, fewer than three in ten autistic people are in work.

Yet autistic students may bring highly-prized attributes such as tenacity, seeing things in a different light, heightened analysis and confidence in problem-solving. These characteristics may be additionally attractive to some highly-skilled industries like tech, particularly when combined with advanced abilities in coding and programming, or excellent memory, which many autistic people can display.

However, our autistic students frequently tell us that applying for jobs or starting new roles can be overwhelming, with lots of quick-fire questions, noisy open-plan offices and anxieties over following unwritten social rules.

And on the other hand, many employers want to attract autistic applicants but simply aren’t sure about how to make their environment more accessible. As providers, our insights and expertise can play a positive intermediary role.

Here are some of the suggestions we can and should be passing on to our employer partners:

Recruitment

Implement inclusive recruitment processes that accommodate different communication styles and support neurodiversity. Offer clear, straightforward application instructions and consider alternative methods of assessment.

Support

Provide tailored support systems including mentors or job coaches to help autistic apprentices and those with special educational needs more broadly to integrate into the workplace. This can enhance their learning experience and overall job satisfaction.

Flexibility

Create flexible work environments that can adapt to individual needs. This may involve adjusting work schedules, providing quiet spaces or allowing for remote work when necessary. Create a structured and predictable work environment. Autistic individuals often thrive in routines and predictability, so establishing clear patterns and expectations can contribute to their success.

Communication

Foster clear and open communication channels. Clearly outline expectations, tasks and goals, and be receptive to different communication styles such as written communication or visual aids.

Colleagues

Conduct training sessions for existing staff to raise awareness about neurodiversity, autism, and SEND. This can help create a more supportive and understanding workplace culture.

Sensitivities

Be mindful of sensory sensitivities. Create a workspace that takes into account potential sensory challenges, such as providing quiet areas, minimising fluorescent lighting or allowing the use of noise-cancelling headphones.

Customisation

Develop apprenticeship programmes that can be customised to suit individual learning styles. This may involve incorporating hands-on experiences, visual aids or other accommodations to enhance the learning process.

Adaptability

Establish a system for regular feedback and adjustments. Check in with apprentices to understand their progress, address concerns and make necessary accommodations to ensure a positive learning experience.

Collaboration

Collaborate with support organisations that specialise in working with individuals with SEND and autism. Seek guidance and resources to enhance your company’s ability to create an inclusive and supportive apprenticeship programme.

Lifelong learning

Work with local schools, colleges and other providers to create careers networks where business and education can support one another to nurture talent and develop a local supply of engaged staff.

Disability Confident

Employer partners may be interested to know that many of these approaches are included in the government’s Disability Confident Scheme, which offers a positive, practical framework to improve how they recruit and retain disabled staff. This can make for a stronger workforce and also allows customers and other businesses to identify those who are committed to workplace equality.

Access to Work funding

It is worth reminding employer partners that not all of these adaptations need to be paid for by them. Schemes like Access to Work support disabled people to start or stay in work and can be used to cover the cost of support or adaptations beyond reasonable adjustments. For example, adaptations to equipment, a support worker to help an autistic employee in the workplace or disability awareness training for colleagues with whom the autistic staff member will work.  

By sharing this advice we are giving employer partners practical suggestions for fostering an inclusive work environment while also creating a more diverse, skilled and profitable workforce that can support their overall business goals.

And of course all of that applies to us as employers too.

Time for government to end racial inequalities in apprenticeships

At Action for Race Equality, we have campaigned over the past twenty years for apprenticeship starts and achievements to reflect England’s ethnic diversity. We have worked closely with successive governments via task forces and advisory groups, but race disparities continue.

Tragically, the latest statistics show that Black, Asian, and mixed-ethnic people continue to be under-represented in apprenticeships for yet another consecutive year. Meanwhile, high-value sectors such as construction and engineering who are suffering from well-publicised skills shortages continue to be dominated by White males and remain impervious to the benefits of ethnic and gender diversity.

Amid stagnating growth in starts this year, new apprenticeship places continue to be lowest in geographical areas where ethnic minority populations are highest, such as Birmingham and London. Nationally, ethnic minority people account for only 14 per cent of apprentice starts, compared to a population rate of 18 per cent.

And while more politicians point to apprenticeships as key to meeting the country’s current and future skills needs, few make the case that making them accessible to everyone is vital to improving them.

Concerted action is necessary to remove the systemic ethnic bias in the labour market, and ending racial inequalities in apprenticeships must be part of that strategy. This National Apprenticeship Week and Race Equality Week, Action for Race Equality calls on the government to take swift action.

Make it a priority

First, ministers should introduce a ministerial apprenticeship race equity taskforce to drive up participation in key regions and sectors. This taskforce should learn from previous government and sector-based race equity initiatives such as Five Cities, and must have multiple partners including employers, Jobcentre Plus, local councils, FE/HE institutions and race equality practitioners.

Incentivise positive action

Second, employers should be incentivised to recruit and train people a more diverse range of social backgrounds through the apprenticeship levy. We recently called on chief executives to utilise positive action to support more young Black men in London, who are up to three times more likely to be unemployed than young white men aged 16 to 24. The government should adapt the levy to incentivise more employers to do the same, especially in high-value sectors and in regions with the lowest start rates.

Empower local partnerships

Third, partnership working is key to achieving success. We know this from experience. Our work with educators, employers and employability organisations through our flagship ‘Moving on Up’ programme, a ten-year positive employment initiative for young Black men, and our Youth Futures Foundation-funded ‘Building Ethnic Diversity in the Youth Employability Sector Programme’ proves that creating pathways into apprenticeships for under-represented groups is possible when there’s a will.

Local authorities have a particularly important role to play when it comes to ending the race disparities in apprenticeship starts; they are well placed to connect employers with local employability organisations working with Black, Asian, and mixed-heritage people.

Be transparent and accountable

We also know through our ‘Moving on Up’ programme that having a degree-level education doesn’t necessarily translate into better economic opportunities. Another key move to tackling racial disparities in apprenticeships is the publication of data on degree-level apprenticeships, with breakdowns in application, start and completion rates by gender, age and ethnicity.

Government should then require all employers with 50+ employees to monitor and publish information about apprenticeship applications and appointments by age, gender and ethnicity. This will allow for disparities in apprenticeship application success rates to be tracked.

Next year, the growth in apprenticeship starts must not remain stagnant. Key to vibrant growth will be positive action to drive supply in the least-served regions and for the least-represented groups.

There are clear actions that the government, local authorities, employers and providers can take to reduce this disparity, and we look forward to working with partners to achieve this.

To register for Action for Race Equality’s ‘Strengthening Education to Employment Pathways for Black, Asian & Mixed Heritage young people’ conference on 22 February, visit https://bit.ly/3SPLble

The numbers don’t lie; apprenticeships are a success story for opportunity

We have a lot to celebrate this National Apprenticeship Week. And not just the huge number of people now participating in apprenticeships and climbing the ladder of opportunity. This has taken place against a backdrop of rising standards in apprenticeship training and assessment.   

In 2009/10 there were fewer than half a million people doing apprenticeships. There was no requirement that training must last at least a year, and no minimum amount of guided learning it must include.

Last year, over 750,000 people were participating in apprenticeships, training to the rigorous, industry-designed standards we introduced from 2014.

This academic year we’ve already seen 130,830 apprenticeship starts between August and October, up 7 per cent on the same period the previous year. Among those, the number of young people under 25 starting an apprenticeship is up by 6 per cent, at 78,960 starts. And the number of achievements is up 22 per cent so far this academic year, with 37,400 people passing their apprenticeship.

This is a huge achievement – brought about by the businesses, training providers, colleges and universities that worked with the government to get this right. There are now over 690 high-quality apprenticeships in roles ranging from forestry to data science. Most importantly, each now delivers the skills businesses need, helping them grow their turnover and contribute to economic growth.

The Ronseal levy

The apprenticeship levy has been a huge part of this success story. I think of it as the Ronseal Levy because it does what it says on the tin: supports employers to take on more apprentices and invest in the high-quality training needed for a skilled workforce.

There are calls for flexibility to spend the levy on other types of staff training, but its funds have contributed massively to the proliferation of apprenticeships. Diluting its use would significantly decrease these opportunities. Allowing employers to use half of the fund for other skills training last academic year could have resulted in a near-60 per cent reduction in apprentice starts.

Cutting red tape

Small businesses are the levy’s great beneficiaries. It subsidises 95 per cent of a small employer’s training costs, rising to 100 per cent for the smallest firms who hire apprentices aged 18 and under.

We want to encourage SMEs to make the most of this funding, and I’m determined that they’re not put off by paperwork. That’s why we are slashing red tape for these employers by ending the limit on the number of apprentices they can hire and reducing the steps needed to do so.

 A social justice mission

But it’s not just about total numbers. We also want to find more ways to support groups that are underrepresented in the programme. That is why we have begun a pilot scheme to help training providers offer quality mentoring to disabled people starting an apprenticeship. This will give participants tailored support from someone who understands the programme as well as their individual needs and circumstances.

Apprenticeships also serve social justice by offering new routes into professions traditionally reserved for graduates. The Teacher Degree Apprenticeship announced at the start of National Apprenticeship Week will allow trainees to earn and learn, while gaining an undergraduate degree and qualified teacher status.

It’s a win-win for everybody, helping schools to recruit the highly-skilled teachers they need and opening up the profession to more people. This could include teaching assistants and other staff already working in schools. Degree-level apprenticeships like this one have been incredibly popular since their launch in 2015, with over 218,000 people starting on these prestigious training pathways.

There is still more to be done to build a world-class skills system in this country. But this National Apprenticeship Week, I’m looking forward to getting out and about to celebrate the progress we’ve made. And the best sign of that progress is the success of individual apprentices, who are putting in the hard yards of rigorous training to climb the ladder of opportunity and build a better life for themselves.

We must ensure functional skills are fit for the future

Functional Skills qualifications (FSQs) have long been the subject of animated debate across our sector.They were designed to offer second-chance opportunities for those who may have previously not succeeded using traditional educational pathways such as GCSEs. However, reforms to content in 2019, and standstill funding since 2014, have led to a situation where learners increasingly see FSQs as a barrier to progress rather than a help, and providers are finding them unviable to deliver.

FSQs now appear in many ways indistinguishable from English and maths GCSEs, which many young people have already spent 11 years struggling with to no avail. Given these difficulties, providers and employers alike are beginning to require them on entry to apprenticeships to avoid the cost and difficulty of delivering them, with all that implies for reductions in social mobility and equal opportunities.

With the backing of both Gatsby Foundation and Edge Foundation, AELP have brought together an extensive study of both the content and costs of FSQs. Alongside our partners, Warwick University Institute for Employment Research and the Association of Colleges, we conducted a range of interviews, focus groups and deep-dive quantitative analysis of the cost of FSQ delivery, to produce “Spelling It Out, Making It Count”. The report proposes seven recommendations to improve FSQ pass rates whilst maintaining their robustness and differentiation to traditional GCSE examinations.

Our key findings make clear that the non-applied nature of much of the FSQ exams are increasingly no longer in line with their vocational intent, presenting a barrier to learners on vocational and apprenticeship programmes. Moreover, with funding unchanged for nearly a decade, FSQs are simply unviable, and in the current massively constrained fiscal environment, they present a possibly existential threat to many providers who continue to deliver them.

No wonder increasing numbers of apprenticeship providers are instead making them an entry requirement. And this is happening without complaint from employers, who themselves struggle to accommodate study for maths and English under rules that prevent their being classed as off-the-job training.

FSQs no longer serve the purpose for which they were designed

Our work looking at costs of FSQ delivery is, as far as we can tell, some of the first (if not the first) of its kind – a surprising fact in itself. The level of losses being incurred in FSQ delivery is however staggering. Prior to the recent equalisation of funding for FSQs in apprenticeships to the level paid for AEB, losses could range up to £440 per qualification. Even with the move to £724 for all FSQs, we are still looking at average losses of £35-40 per qualification, and that’s before the additional costs of delivering in an apprenticeship setting and an average cost per resit of around £35 are taken into account.

Our findings show that FSQs in their current form and at the newly revised funding rates no longer serve the purpose for which they were designed. We believe the reforms have in fact undermined the intended purpose of FSQs, disadvantaging thousands of young people and adults by diminishing choice of the way they can demonstrate their literacy and numeracy skills.

Our report makes seven recommendations that need urgent consideration and implementation to help to improve this situation:

  1. Ensure the differentiated purpose of functional skills is maintained in practice
  2. Increase exam question contextualisation
  3. Review the structure and spread of Level 2 functional skills maths questions
  4. Promote diverse assessment methods and improve recognition of partial success
  5. Incorporate English and maths components of apprenticeships into the off-the-job apprenticeship training definition
  6. Review the role functional skills qualifications should play in the award of apprenticeships
  7. Uprate funding for functional skills qualifications by at least 10 per cent

It is clear that providers cannot and will not sustain the rate of losses incurred in delivering qualifications that bear increasingly little relevance to the workplace scenarios they were designed to map to.

Post-reform FSQs unhelpfully blur the lines between academic and vocational learning styles, diminishing choice and opportunity for learners and diverging from employer workplace needs. Change is needed, and it is needed now.

Four recommendations to build construction’s workforce

I have been involved with training for the construction industry for over 30 years, both in the UK and overseas. Although some challenges such as net zero are being addressed in many countries, the UK faces a range of very serious challenges that are home-grown.

The construction and built environment sector provides the critical infrastructure, housing, repairs and maintenance to support the UK’s economy and communities.Its output is over £216 billion per annum, and it provides around 8.8 per cent of the UK’s jobs. 

On net zero, it needs to upskill the workforce to support the UK in constructing the low-carbon world to support our economy and communities into a stable future- all while cutting the carbon emitted during the construction process.

In addition, the industry faces three other major challenges.

First, a major skills shortage of circa 250,000 skilled personnel up to 2027. 

Second, a significant requirement to upskill the workforce to improve productivity through digitisation, different materials, new products and new methods of working.

Third, arising from Grenfell, to ensure compliance with the legal requirements of the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) in DBT by improving the level of competency of the workforce.

All this against a background of 10 years of changing skills policies from DfE, as well as the impact of devolution. There are green skills initiatives from the department for energy security amd net zero, such as the Solar Task Force Skills Group. There’s the need to design new UK-wide skills competency frameworks with the building safety regulator in the department for business and trade. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales obviously have their own policy initiatives.And there is also a UK-wide review underway of the future of construction industry training board and its engineering counterpart, which is expected to report soon.

It is no wonder the medium and small contractor companies find this array of government departments, quangos and differing and changing systems bewildering. They struggle to see how to address the major challenges.

This array of departments, quangos and differing and changing systems is bewildering

Recognising these massive challenges, we carried out a review, with the support of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), of what employers thought was the way forward to boost employment in the sector.

We found that employers use a range of existing training routes to bring people into industry, They see it as essential that all these routes are retained and properly funded. To ensure full competency of the workforce and comply with the Building Safety Act is a challenge for employers.

For example, there are 442,000 people with only a labourer card (level 1 or no qualification). So the sector’s priority is to get people to competency level 2, but this is at odds with governments’ policies focusing on level 3 and above.

In the view of employers, over the past ten years skills policy and the skills system have become more fragmented. This is aggravated by a decline in skills funding.

The industry has used the single carding scheme (CSCS) as the mechanism for verifying competency, but it needs to be better re-integrated into the overall skills system. This point is not fully recognised by governments’ policies.

Based on this information gathering, the report proposes four key recommendations:

  1. Retain and improve through modularisation of training and best quality assurance all the existing routes into the sector, i.e. apprenticeships (including levels 2 and 3, higher and degree), vocational competence qualifications (NVQs) and bootcamps, where these are of a high-quality (with appropriate training to facilitate entering employment). 
  2. Industry needs to work with governments and other key stakeholders to establish a common consistent UK skills system for construction which is based on a common core for each occupation with built-in flexibility for national and regional variations.
  3. Develop the CSCS scheme to support the new verification of competency under the Building Safety Act and ensure it is integrated into the UK skills system and policies.
  4. As set out in the CLC Industry Skills Plan, industry needs to take a leading role on diversity and enhancing the various approaches currently being used with the co-ordination of a single coherent, focused and powerful message of the benefits of working in construction; under-pinned by an agreed approach to EDI.

What is clear from our review is that the major skills challenges of the construction sector are significantly different to those of others and therefore it requires skills policies and a system that are fit for purpose for it.

Could you be the next NCG Leader?

I am extremely proud to lead NCG, one of the country’s largest college groups. We’re made up of seven colleges across a national footprint, with over 2,500 colleagues supporting more than 40,000 learners towards a successful future across the country.

With a mission to enable social mobility and economic prosperity for all our learners and communities, having the right people with the experience and talent to lead our colleges and our colleagues is absolutely crucial. Finding talented leaders, helping them to develop and enabling them to drive the success of our colleges is something that I am particularly passionate about and it’s something we’re really focused on at NCG.

Right now, we have five rare and exciting opportunities to join our colleges as Assistant Principals. These roles are part of new ambitious plans to strengthen our college leadership teams, providing the support and challenge for our colleagues that will help us to achieve the ambitions we have set for ourselves in our Strategy Towards 2030.

So, what does being a leader at NCG really mean?

It means being dedicated to helping people fulfil their ambitions. It means working in an innovative way and within a unique structure and culture that provides opportunities you may not find elsewhere.

Our national footprint is both NCG’s biggest strength and challenge. Our seven colleges are focused on the specific needs of their different communities and the economies around them, but all our talented and passionate team of colleagues work together as ‘One NCG’, working collaboratively in some way to share expertise and support each other. Our colleagues may work with different learners in individual colleges, but the work we do together is what helps us make a difference to people across the country.

For our college principalship teams this means providing leadership at their local colleges and working as part of the broader leadership community across our Group; a network of colleagues in the same role at other colleges in our Group. This model provides opportunities to work closely with peers and a support network for those new to the role.

We know that opportunities in Lewisham are very different to those in Carlisle, and that there are different economic priorities in Kidderminster to Newcastle. But having an extended team of colleagues spread across the country is a fantastic resource to have – drawing on each other’s different backgrounds and experiences to offer each other a real support system. That’s something that can often be hard to find in smaller, standalone colleges.

It’s a fantastic set-up for innovation and progress too. Our college-based leadership teams lead projects right across our Group – whether they are supporting students’ mental health, developing part of our curriculum, or focusing on a community initiative.  They collaborate, communicate weekly and innovate to share best practice and ensure students from all our colleges can benefit from great initiatives that start as an idea in just one of them.

Our positive culture, our ethos of ‘One NCG’ and the shared goals of colleagues across the Group to provide high-quality education to our learners were all highlighted in our last Ofsted report too. So, we know it makes a real difference to our learners and our outcomes.

Because it’s so important, we really believe in developing talent from within. That’s why we launched our own Leadership Hub, a development programme for NCG colleagues that aims to instil a supportive and inclusive culture across our Group and support our strategic objectives. I am thrilled with its success and so far, we’ve had more than 300 colleagues complete the programme.

How do we know this approach works? 

Well, many of the colleagues in our existing college leadership teams have progressed from elsewhere within NCG – a really great example of how a Group like ours can create and provide opportunities that smaller, standalone colleges may not.

Our current Executive Principal of People and Culture, Gerard Garvey, joined the Group as Principal of Newcastle Sixth Form College in 2015 and was seconded to Lewisham College for 18 months before moving into his current role, where he focuses on developing our people and making NCG a fantastic place to work.

One of Newcastle College’s Assistant Principals, Lisa Hoseason – who has been with NCG for almost 20 years – recently moved to head up West Lancashire College. Lisa started working in classroom support and studied her teaching qualifications at Newcastle College alongside her job. Her leadership journey at NCG is a wonderful success story that really highlights how we value and develop our colleagues.

“I’ve been offered so many opportunities working at NCG and I’ve always been really supported and encouraged to develop and progress. Now, working to support colleagues and learners at West Lancashire College, I have really felt the benefits of the way our college leadership teams work together. I’ve not only felt supported in the change, but I’ve really been able to see the wider impact that the work we do together has on our learners and our communities. It’s brilliant.”

Lisa Hoseason

Joining one of our college leadership teams means being part of a local community, supporting and responding to local people, employers and stakeholders. As part of NCG, you will have the support, autonomy and accountability to meet these local needs at the same time as delivering Group strategies and priorities, and helping us to achieve the objectives of our Strategy Towards 2030.

The most exciting part of being an Assistant Principal at NCG is the chance to work collaboratively with colleagues up and down the country, leading on ambitious initiatives that will create life-changing opportunities for our learners, with the freedom to grow, develop and feel truly supported as you do your best work.

Having worked in education for more than twenty years, I absolutely know that there are talented further education leaders with the vision and passion for excellence that would be the perfect fit for NCG.  So, if we sound like something you would love to be part of, we want to hear from you!