As the leader of two further education colleges, and the CEO of a growing multi-academy trust including two studio schools, I am passionate about our core business, which is to provide learning that gives our students a clear line of sight to work.
A report published earlier this month by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), 157 Group and the Gazelle Colleges Group – A New Conversation: Employer and college engagement – calls for stronger links between colleges and employers. Against the backdrop of employers saying they struggle to find skilled workers, I wholeheartedly support this call to action.
In the colleges and schools I lead, we are firmly focused on giving young people the tools they need to make informed decisions about their future careers.
Our toolkit combines traditional tactics with innovative strategies. We take an enterprising approach – taking the initiative and being proactive.
Students at different ages and stages, on different learning routes and with different strengths, interests and aspirations, have different needs when it comes to guidance. So young people can make the right choices, it is vital that academic and vocational routes are given parity of status and students are aware of all of the options that are open to them.
The recent Gatsby Report – Good Career Guidance – reinforces the importance of good quality careers guidance and recommends and costs “benchmarked” provision in schools.
Our independent careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) service, based at North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, is accredited by Matrix as gold standard. We are committed to ensuring this service is the best it can possibly be, and we make it available to local schools.
We invest in high-quality impartial highly qualified and engaging careers advice practitioners. Traditional engagement opportunities within college include face-to-face meetings, open days, careers events, parents’ evenings, master classes and experience days. We also offer a staffed helpdesk and remote access opportunities including e-guidance, which is becoming increasing popular.
In our local primary schools, for example, we deliver a programme tailored to year 6 students. It engages a wide spectrum of young people, including minority groups, those with disabilities and those from disadvantaged socio-economic groups.
This two-day programme encourages them to start to thinking about the future and raises awareness of the opportunities available to them post-16, including A levels, vocational qualifications, Apprenticeships and higher education. Feedback from the young people participating in this programme has been hugely positive.
The development of our college-led multi academy trust, the Midland Academies Trust, has enabled us to better connect the different elements of our local education landscape.
Now, having joined seven schools and two colleges together, we can provide young people with a wider set of pathways and broaden their horizons. Our approach is always collaborative and we are constantly seeking new opportunities to ensure young people can access a seamless educational service.
So we can ensure students have a clear line of sight to work we align our school and college curriculums with the needs of employers.
We are currently implementing software enabling students to access local, up-to-date and relevant labour market intelligence.
We are also finding additional ways to be keyed into the ever-changing demands of local, regional, national and international industry.
I sit on the board of both the Leicester and Leicestershire Local Enterprise Partnership and I chair the Employment and Skills Business Group for the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership. These are business-critical relationships – giving the organisations I lead the opportunity to work even more closely with major employers and universities in our region.
Earlier this month I spoke at a Local Enterprise Partnership-led conference for careers leads in local schools to promote employment opportunities in advanced manufacturing and engineering.
The advanced manufacturing and engineering sector is set to enjoy massive growth in the Midlands. With so many world class firms on our doorstep, including Jaguar Landrover, Rolls Royce, MIRA and MTC, to name but a few, there is much to be gained from building sustainable relationships between the Local Enterprise Partnership, local schools and employers. Through collaboration, we can give young people the very best chance of success. Companies and supply chains will also benefit from a pipeline of skilled young people.
Another element of our toolkit, in response to employers’ concerns about skills gaps, is the development of employability skills.
For example in our studio schools, where young people can study GCSEs, BTECs and A levels, this includes coaching and project-based learning, which helps to prepare young people for employment and higher education. This complements the weekly work placements that students access as an integral part of their learning. The approach is having a massively positive effect on students and earlier this year the Midland Studio College Hinckley became the first studio school in the country to be graded as outstanding by Ofsted.
We also use competitions to stretch our students’ academic, technical and employability skills and raise their aspirations and ambitions. We support a raft of external competitions including those linked to WorldSkills, and we run our own events, including schools competitions in public speaking and poetry, an inter-college competition for foundation level learning students which this year is attracting international delegates, and many more opportunities for students at all levels to showcase their talents.
Linked to this is our absolute support of the national Skills Show, held annually at the NEC in Birmingham. Last year we provided transport to more than 1,000 students from local schools, as well as our own students, so they could attend and be inspired by the UK’s biggest careers event.
We also work hard to provide interactive career taster activities such as “have a go” events, for the thousands of young people within our colleges’ cohort areas and work closely with Find a Future to deliver local events.
It is our responsibility, as educators, to help students make informed decisions about their futures. Excellent careers guidance, in all its forms, is a fundamental element of the educational experience we provide, as we seek to ensure young people can enjoy successful futures.
Marion Plant is principal and chief executive of North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, a large, high performing college of general further education. She is also a board member of the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership and a trustee of the Edge Foundation.