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Colleges, councils and businesses urged to join forces to tackle skills shortages

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Colleges and training providers are being urged to join forces with local authorities and businesses to help tackle skills shortages and boost employment in their regions.

A new report published today by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and Association of Colleges (AoC) says the organisations should sign up to "local outcome agreements" to link skills provision with employer demand.

The report, which draws on a number of international case studies as well as consultations with FE colleges, employers, local enterprise partnerships, business groups and local authorities across England, says the agreements will help to identify and address skills shortages more effectively.

Each of the partners is held accountable for delivery of their part of the agreement.

Alison Morris, assistant director of the UKCES, told TES: “This is not just about a piece of paper or a set of targets; it’s about coming together to agree a shared aim. We are advocating a broader, longer-term set of outcomes measures than just qualifications.”

But she said the agreements would need a “change of culture” at local level and would not happen “overnight”: “It’s about each local area thinking about what is right for them; seeing what their skills challenges are. Hopefully this report will be a starting point.”

UKCES commissioner Barbara Spicer said: “There’s a long-term shift to try to get the skills system more in line with what employers want and to get employers more articulate about what they want from the system. This report is saying it’s time for a system change at a local level within a national framework.”

Ms Spicer said the sector was “ready to embrace” the challenge.

The AoC said that with the amount of money available for skills provision decreasing, local outcome agreements could help colleges to provide greater value for money and return on investment.

Gill Clipson, deputy chief executive of the AoC, told TES that many colleges were already involved in similar local partnerships which could be formalised through outcome agreements.

“The question is how can we move from a system of national accountability where colleges are reporting up to funding agencies or reported on by Ofsted to something more local and responsive? We see local outcome agreements as being a national initiative locally delivered.”

However, she acknowledged that changes in policy and funding were not helpful. “How can we do this in a sensible way rather than short-term policies and initiatives which may not be sustainable?” she asked.

The report proposes that for areas with little experience or history of this way of working, partners could start by identifying a limited number of skills challenges before building up to the wider local economic need.

The ambition is for the majority of provision at a local level to be the subject of a local outcome agreement including programmes for young people, adults (both in and out of work) and apprenticeships.

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