Private sector's loss is our gain

Inquiries about careers in FE rise 300% as people in other industries are made casualties of the downturn

Alan Thomson

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The recession is behind a surge in the numbers of people seeking careers in further education, new figures suggest.

The number of people contacting Lifelong Learning UK's information and advice line to inquire about lecturing careers in FE rose by 300 per cent, from 211 in December 2007 to 861 this September. There was a 41 per cent rise in inquiries in October this year alone.

The information and advice line, a free phone and email service, is designed specifically for those considering a teaching career in further education.

Further education already faces staff shortages due rising retirement levels and it has skills shortages in certain areas, such as construction. The recession may help the sector address both problems.

Ivor Jones, deputy chief executive officer and executive director, strategy and business development for the LLUK, said that further education was offering people vital training and retraining opportunities.

"There is no doubt this takes on increased significance when many people are making major choices in relation to new career pathways, as a result of the impact of the economic downturn," he said.

LLUK also reports more than 1,600 inquiries to its Make a Difference scheme, which was launched in August and is designed to create a pool of graduate-calibre managers that further education and training employers can access. Once employed, Make a Difference candidates then benefit from funded leadership development programmes.

Figures show that more than 70 per cent of inquiries to the scheme come from outside FE and that many of these may be from former private sector employees made redundant due to the downturn.

Analysis of the data suggests that 45 per cent of those inquiring about Make a Difference want to work in London and South East, suggesting that they also live and previously held jobs in the capital.

Alan Clarke, sector engagement manager for Make a Difference, said: "I think the current economic climate is a factor. People are now realising that they have transferable skills.

"It's difficult to identify what motivates everyone, but some people want to give something back to society and others are seeking more secure employment."

Mr Clarke said that Make a Difference candidates would help the sector face the management challenges ahead, including those posed by the winding up of the Learning and Skills Council by 2010 and the move towards self- regulation.

"We are not talking about a panacea to radically change management in FE but if Make a Difference works then it is something to replicate across the sector," he said.

Make a Difference, one of the four strands of the Catalyst recruitment programme funded by the Department for Innovation Universities and Skills, aims to identify and train 210 managers by 2010. If the scheme is successful it may be expanded to cover more managers already in FE.

Further education is seeking to improve its management following a 2007-08 Ofsted report that found almost a quarter of colleges with inadequate or only satisfactory leadership and management.

The National Improvement Strategy, led by the the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, emphasises the need for providers to continually strive for higher quality performance.

Dan Taubman, national further education official for the University and College Union, said: "The quality of management in FE is variable - though perhaps no more so than in any other sector - and bringing people in from outside can be a breath of fresh air."

With 38 per cent of Make a Difference candidates from black and ethnic backgrounds and 48 per cent of them women, the scheme also promises to help further education's inclusion agenda.

LLUK Information and Advice Service 020 7936 5798 or

Barry Johns is prepared to give up a good private sector salary to secure the right job in further education. Among the first to complete the pre- selection stage of the Make a Difference scheme, Mr Johns has decided to give up an international career in the construction industry for a more fulfilling role in further education.

"I'll definitely take a pay cut to work in FE and that does concern me. But happiness and a sense of fulfilment is more important to me," he said."I know that sounds a bit wishy washy, and I have enjoyed my 20-odd years in the industry, but I think it is important to have a sense of fulfilment."

Mr Johns, a quantity surveyor who has worked on several major projects including the new World Trade Centre Transportation Hub in New York, was attracted by the Make a Difference advertisements. "I wouldn't have considered FE," he said. "I wouldn't have thought it was open to me."

The fact that it was further education also appealed, he said, as it seemed more likely than schools or universities to make use of and benefit from his vocational knowledge and skills. Mr Johns is currently considering vacancies in the sector.

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Alan Thomson

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