SMEs favour colleges to deliver post-Brexit skills

More leaders at small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) think colleges are better placed than universities to deliver skills

Colleges are seen as best-suited to deliver the skills needed for a post-Brexit workforce by almost half of small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs), a survey suggests

Colleges are seen as best-suited to deliver the skills needed for a post-Brexit workforce by almost half of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), a survey suggests.

The research was carried out for the Association of Colleges by market research company Mortar London who asked 534 decision-makers at SMEs about the UK’s skills needs as part of Colleges Week 2018.

In total, 58 per cent of the SMEs surveyed warned that the country risked being left behind if the government doesn’t address skills gaps through education with half finding it more difficult to recruit employees with the right skills compared to five years ago.

Asked who should deal with the country’s post-Brexit skills gap, 48 per cent of SME leaders said colleges, compared to 30 per cent who said universities and 21 per cent schools. 

Funding should be seen as investing for a return

Yet a supporting survey conducted among 70 college principals in England four-fifths saying it will limit the country’s ability to re-skill post-Brexit.

Chief executive of the Association of Colleges David Hughes said the campaign was not simply about asking the government to spend more money.

He added: “It is about investing for a return which will benefit all of us. A decade of cuts to college funding in our austerity decade has gone too far and must be reversed if we want to make a success of Brexit.”

FE is ‘fighting for its life’

Andrew Harden, head of FE at the University and College Union, said skills were “absolutely crucial” to the UK’s economic success, adding: “But right now our further education sector is fighting for its life.

“Colleges specialise in helping those who are often hardest for schools and universities to reach. They are remarkable places which transform lives and, given the chance, could help transform our country too. However, without urgent investment in our colleges and their staff, the government risks squandering the potential of millions of people.”

NUS students’ union vice president for FE Emily Chapman said as Brexit nears, so too do fears over future skills needs. She added: “Rightly so, attention is now turning to what role post-16 education has in making sure learners are equipped for the ever-changing political and economic landscape.

“With detrimental cuts impacting staff and students, immediate action is needed to restore levels of funding and commit to providing high-quality institutions that will be able to deliver the skilled workforce that the UK needs. Not only this, investment into quality skills education is imperative and a true lifelong learning strategy should be the government’s focus.”

‘Austerity isn’t over for colleges’

Unison head of education Jon Richards said austerity was far from over in colleges. He added: “[This is] despite the prime minister’s assurances that the end is nigh. Teaching and support staff are working wonders with thousands of young people, many of whom have been failed in some way by the school system.

“College staff are achieving miracles despite an ever diminishing pot of resources. They're committed to ensuring the next generation of talented youngsters and the country has a future. ministers too must show they care and begin to invest properly in further education."

Kevin Brandstatter, national officer at the GMB trade union said: “Our further education colleges have a vital role to play in addressing these shortfalls and GMB is pleased and happy to support the work of our members in colleges to address these problems.”

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