Employers are more impressed by well-rounded people with communication and teamworking skills than vocational training
Specific vocational and business skills are bottom of companies' wish lists for college leavers. Far more important to them are good standards of literacy, communication and teamwork.
Attitudes of employers to further education are revealed in Learning and Skills Network (LSN) research. It shows that while employers value the job training that colleges provide, they say the education system's primary duty is to produce well-rounded people who are good timekeepers. They should also have the ability to get on with colleagues in the workplace.
The findings will bolster the calls from the Association of Colleges (AoC) for more flexibility in the funding system and a less prescriptive approach by policymakers to allow colleges more say in how the needs of employers should be met.
The implication is that the army of students taking hairdressing courses may never earn a living in a salon, but they are developing attributes such as professionalism, customer care, good timekeeping and personal presentation which will pay off in any job. With these traits, companies accept that it is their responsibility to make sure teenage recruits are trained for the skills required for the businesses in which they are employed.
The LSN report, Employability Skills Explored, published this week, says: "Employers rightly consider it is the state's responsibility to fund the 14-19 phase of education, and many are clearly not prepared to help people develop basic skills essential for employment.
"By contrast, a substantial number are prepared to fund activity that helps people develop the work-related and professional skills they need to successfully run the business."
Trevor Carson, a member of the LSN executive, predicts a change in direction by ministers away from the strict line on vocational skills expressed in recent years.
He said colleges were already being creative in the way they interpret the funding rules. He also claimed that as many as 50 per cent of adult entry level and level 1 courses (below GCSE-level) could be tweaked to meet the qualifications framework requirements that would attract funding.
In an interview with FE Focus last week, David Collins, president of the AoC, said central strategic planning of funding for skills training had left colleges unable to respond sufficiently swiftly to requirements being expressed by real companies on the ground.
The LSN and college principals have seen increasing evidence of companies going for transferable skills at the point of recruitment, leaving specialist training until later. Increasingly, colleges are asked to create bespoke courses for people after they have been hired.
With the takeover of most of the failed vocation training firm Carter and Carter's activities by Newcastle College, there is every sign that colleges will continue to get this business despite competition from private work-based training organisations which also qualify for funding from the Learning and Skills Council.
The LSN survey found that 24 per cent of employers have worked with their local FE college. Half of employers approached in the survey said they had tried to recruit school or college leavers, mostly without success.