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Growing role for FE colleges in vocational training


FE colleges have been given a key role in the government’s plans for post-16 education and training. In 2001, they are to join with the TECs to form the National Learning and Skills Council outlined in the white paper Learning to Succeed. Before then, though, they need to "reinvent themselves" if they are to regain credibility among employers, according to this week’s ‘People Management’ magazine.

Chris Hughes, chief executive of the Further Education Development Agency (Feda) emphasised how the world of vocational training has changed from the 1960s, when the FE sector could rely on guaranteed business from apprenticeship schemes. Now, he says, "colleges need to rethink how they communicate". He argues they "tend to have the best set of experts that any community can have".

Yet employers, it seems, believe that the training the colleges provide is "inflexible and outdated". They have turned instead to private providers, despite the pressure this puts on costs.

Joanna Tait, Principal of Bishop Auckland College, told a Feda conference on "Skills and Enterprise" how linking to local business clubs had enabled the college to build strong relationships with employers. But she said it had been extremely hard work. Employers were largely unaware of what the colleges can provide, and considered them out of touch with the needs of business - even to the misconception, common among HR managers, that all courses run from September to June.

Through the DTI’s College-Business Partnerships scheme, small businesses can now tap into the resources and expertise available in the FE sector. Newly appointed competitiveness minister Alan Johnson believes that further education has a vital, three-fold role to play: tackling the lack of intermediate-level skills in the workforce, encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs, and working closely with businesses in their own local areas.


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