The Value of Relationships in Further Education
The UK Further Education sector is experiencing considerable change, and it looks like that is set to continue for the foreseeable future. The introduction of the new Apprentice reforms, Apprenticeship Levy and the UK Government’s focus on increasing the requirements for work experience for full time learners means that colleges across the UK are taking stock and re-evaluating how they engage with businesses. Those colleges who understand and maximise their relationships with employers will be those who succeed.
In this blog, we’re pleased to speak to Jon Lomas, Industry Links Manager at Blackburn College, whose recent move to Blackburn was a direct result of this industry shift.
Jon, how are FE business relationships changing?
I’ve worked in the FE sector for 15 years and have consistently noticed a lack of understanding around business relationships, and how to get the most out of them. Blackburn College decided to strengthen its relationships and partnerships in order to build a stronger work placement and apprenticeship network – this is where I come in. Right now, the government is reviewing all routes to employment for vocational education. One of the areas that’s set to change is work experience – which we expect to increase from approximately 30 hours per learner to over 120 hours. This has considerable implications for colleges and means we might only get one learner placed with an employer rather than four, hence we need more employers, and we need to become better at building relationships with them to secure those placements and opportunities.
How has the Apprenticeship Levy impacted your role?
Companies who pay into the Apprenticeship Levy have become very focused on how to spend their funds. They’re now in control of the funding and are ultimately spending their own money, as a result they expect a higher level of service because of that. All of us in the FE sector need to up our game and treat these relationships like they would in the commercial world. And we need technology to help us do this; to understand employers, analyse data that we already have, and gather insights from that data. For example, we might eye up a particular employer for construction apprenticeships, when in reality there are lots of wider opportunities – like administrative jobs or human resource positions. We currently miss out on a lot of opportunities because of data siloes across systems, spreadsheets and college departments.
How else can technology support business and learner relationships?
FE colleges need to become more like commercial recruitment agencies for the benefit of both businesses and learners. Currently, we’re missing opportunities to link learners with vacancies and placements by not effectively managing our talent pool and employer opportunities. We need to be able to improve the apprentice application process and how we manage our existing ‘talent pool’. FE colleges need to start treating prospective apprentices and their employers as if they were ‘real customers’ in the ‘real world’; our marketing needs to improve and most importantly we all need to start connecting the application process with our recruitment, placement and progression processes.
At Bolton College you introduced Salesforce and now you’ve done the same at Blackburn. Why Salesforce?
I’m completely sold with Salesforce. Colleges need to be less FE and more commercial, the sooner the sector realises that, the better. With Salesforce, the possibilities are endless and that’s what great about Salesforce. Understanding the platform and its capability helped me see where we could take our business and how we can gain an advantage over our competitors. At the moment Blackburn is using Salesforce in the Industry Links department. We’re up and running 3 months now and have over 500 opportunities in Salesforce. Next, we’ll be looking at how to link up other data, departments and processes to enable further insights and to streamline our operations.
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