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Fast-track course to the top job

highly ambitious staff with an eye on the college principal's job can join a fast-track course designed to create a talent pool for senior posts in colleges and training centres.

Routes to Success was created by the Centre for Excellence in Leadership to tackle the crisis in supply of candidates willing to stand for the most senior posts and to tap into the energy and ambition of lecturers early in their careers.

With almost half the managers in further education due to retire within five years, colleges have reported a slump in applicants. Where once there were 60 plus applicants for each post, now there are fewer than six, the Association of Colleges said recently.

The CEL course offers a mixture of bespoke training, e-learning, one-to-one tutoring and a personal career development programme.

Conrad Benefield, programme leader, said people do not look seriously at the top jobs until they are middle management or in academic and support roles. "There is no problem getting them on to the ladder but at middle management level they get stuck and ask themselves `Have I got what it takes?'" The aim, therefore, is to encourage them early and to help the college develop their leadership talents.

"It is easier for the senior manager to peer over the parapet at the principal than it is for the middle manager. Routes to Success focuses on applying skills at senior level to build confidence and understanding."

It starts with a telephone interview to assess leadership potential, followed by a one-day course of individual exercises. Opportunities for networking are crucial and developed through individual learning tutors. "We are looking for people with the potential to become senior managers within two to three years," Mr Benefield said.

"It can't be just a question of returning to the same old job, so there are agreements between the college, CEL and individuals about subsequent support," he said.

Of the first 80 to complete the course, there have been six reported promotions; others say they have taken on more challenging tasks.

Sandra Small, manager at Lambeth College, said: "I've learned that I can do most things I set my mind to. You can stretch yourself more than you imagine."

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