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Colleges struggle to recruit and retain

FENTO survey reveals 'alarming' extent of recruitment difficulties facing colleges and the skills gaps among existing staff

COLLEGES are facing "alarming" difficulties in recruiting staff across a wide range of subjects.

Skills gaps are widespread among existing staff, and many lecturers cannot make best use of information technology in their teaching, according to a survey by FENTO, the Further Education National Training Organisation.

New lecturers are not taking up jobs in FE because they can earn more money working in industry or by teaching in schools, according to the survey. Both pay and conditions are seen as inferior to other employment sectors.

More than 60 per cent of colleges had difficulty in recruiting IT lecturers, with 38 per cent indicating a substantial problem. Also in short supply are engineers (58 per cent of colleges facing recruitment problems), construction (45 per cent) and accounts (37 per cent). Support staff are also difficult to recruit.

Two out of five colleges had problems recruiting course and programme leaders - normally the first promotion opportunity for lecturers. There are also widespread reports of difficulties recruiting to other lower level management positions.

Competition for workers was regularly cited as the main reason why so many vacancies remained vacant or, as was especially the case for IT positions, were filled by less able candidates.

"Colleges are clear in their belief that the inability to pay attractive salaries and the competition that arises out of alternative employment are the main reason for recruitment difficulties," says the report, based on a survey of 142 colleges across the UK.

In teaching and lecturing roles the subject specialisms that are difficult to retain also match those that are difficult to recruit. "There is a clear perception that schools are able to offer more attractive salaries than FE and sixth-form colleges. There ae also strong hints that perceptions of workload and job security encourage staff to move on."

FENTO chief executive Geoff Terry said the situation was bound to become increasingly tricky with colleges facing competition for staff from more than one direction. "On one hand they're competing against pay levels in schools while, on the other hand, many staff can earn higher salaries outside education altogether," he said.

The survey found "significant, sometimes damaging" gaps in management skills in colleges. The biggest gaps identified by respondents were in performance management (35 per cent) and people management (31 per cent). It estimates that across the UK more than 100 colleges recognise significant weaknesses in generic management skills, while at least 90 suffer from weaknesses with financial understanding and strategic management.

Colleges reported that management teams had generally shrunk in size over the past three years. Some 83 per cent reported growth in the numbers of learning support staff and 65 per cent said the numbers of part-time lecturers was rising. The current balance of 31 per cent part-time and 25 per cent full-time lecturers is changing so that a greater proportion of lecturers will work part-time.

Some 55 per cent of colleges report difficulties in recruiting governors and this "gives cause for concern" in 15 per cent of cases.

Twenty per cent of colleges only "encouraged" new staff to obtain a teaching qualification, rather than required them to do so. But this will change as a result of new regulations announced last November.

The report recommends better pay, improved terms and conditions, and new training initiatives as solutions to the problems in the sector. There should also be a national campaign to promote FE as an employer.

SKILLS FORESIGHT for Further Education in the United Kingdom. Available from FENTO, 4th floor, 1-6 Ely Place, London, EC1N 6RY

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