First published on November 2011.
Employers in many UK industries are struggling to compete in a global economy that makes increasing demands on the quality, price and ingenuity of their product range. Qualifications based only on knowledge and skills will no longer provide employers with the supply of the creativity that their business demands. FE colleges will risk being marginalised if they do not reform and embrace the changes that these employers and the economy require.
I don’t think this is just a temporary problem of the economic downturn and the subsequent shortage of jobs. Instead, over a longer timescale of three, five or even ten years, businesses will be looking for employees who understand culture, who can add value to the business straightaway and come to them with experiences of working in industry and of managing those businesses within colleges successfully.
This approach is not easy to implement but there have been significant initial steps taken for the creative industries in this regard. The initial change has been qualification-driven, with Creative Apprenticeships showing the way in terms of linking education to real working opportunities. However, it’s important to remember that there are 64,000 students studying creative courses in colleges. We have a challenge, therefore, in terms of scalability, and this will need more radical reform if we are to create opportunities for such large numbers of students.
To achieve a shift from a traditional education paradigm to a more experiential and entrepreneurial model of learning, colleges will require a significant change in mindset and a new approach towards partnership and leadership. This is not a cosmetic change to further education but a transformation of the whole way in which we provide for learners in the current and future jobs market. One method of doing this in the creative industries is to incubate real businesses within colleges.
To give a simplistic example, hairdressers are trained within businesses in colleges, but their role in that situation is largely to provide the product: in that instance, a haircut. However, there are now a few examples of colleges going much further than this. City College Norwich, for example, has an in-house live radio station which has a business model that relies on commercial partnerships in order to be sustainable. This puts learners at the sharp end of the programme but without the financial exposure in the real world.
In the creative industries, this could translate, for example, into a dance production venture in a college, which links together media, hospitality and creative learners to produce a sustainable company. This would tie in aspects of social media, event planning, business management, performance and other aspects of being part of a startup business. People who undertake this type of experiential learning are likely to come out much more prepared to offer something innovative to a business, or to leap into self-employment themselves.
Colleges need to be more than skills supply lines and, in addition, they must become incubators of successful businesses that can compete directly with services offered in the private sector.
Principals and senior managers need to review the industrial output model of education and instead embrace the fact that colleges can broker new relationships with the labour market. This is happening in isolated pockets across colleges, but we need to ensure that there is now a shift to a whole-college approach to solving these problems. Bodies like the National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural can help to provide networks and platforms for innovation to emerge from the outside; but, as colleges, we also have to be willing to change internally to progress.
Illustrations by Paul Davis - http://copyrightdavis.blogspot.com/