There are 163 further education colleges in England. They work with around 130,000 employers – an average of 800 employers each. There are around 2.4 million businesses in England. And so, for every single business a college works with, they don’t work with another 17. It is easy, perhaps, to understand why we hear too often that colleges are not doing enough to meet their needs.
The solution being presented to employers and colleges today is that we need a stronger ‘match’ between what colleges offer and what businesses say they need, in real time. The presumption is that any ‘skills shortage’ is because of a deficit in the education and training system and that there is a pool of people waiting to gain skills and ready and willing to work in the jobs which are vacant.
This simplistic view is frustrating, because we know it is far more complex than that. Many employers have, over the last couple of decades, been able to simply recruit the people they need, with the skills they need, from an open and vibrant labour market.
When employers start to find it difficult to recruit people, the finger is often pointed at colleges and other education providers for not meeting their needs rather than thinking about pay, working conditions, flexible working, recruitment practices and so on.