Colleges have made great strides towards improving the careers advice they provide to an increasingly diverse student population, according to the Jim Donaldson, chief inspector at the Further Education Funding Council (below left).
The council's recent report on the careers service was overwhelmingly positive, Mr Donaldson said. "Colleges have worked very hard to improve careers education and guidance," he said. But they realise that by emphasising the end product of education - increased employability - they can attract more students through their doors.
"One of the most powerful tools one can use is to offer careers advice, guidance and education so that their appetite can be whetted," Mr Donaldson says. "There is a lot of good practice in terms of FE colleges offering taster courses for people returning to learn. Many are aware of the importance of careers guidance. It's a way in which they can start to make an impact in terms of improving retention rates. Careers education is of crucial importance if we are to achieve these targets and has a major part to play.
"FE colleges are providing for a very wide range of clients from full-time students, part-time students, high fliers who are taking A-levels and GNVQ advanced (vocational equivalent of A-levels) to those with learning difficulties. That is a very diverse client group compared to the much more homogenous group in schools."
Independence from local authorities has forced colleges to market themselves more effectively and their function as occupational trainers and advisers is a unique selling point, Mr Donaldson suggests.
"Since incorporation, many colleges have changed the front of their buildings - they are much more modern and much more client-centred. In terms of progress that has been made over the last few years, the use of publicity has come on in leaps and bounds. Careers have become very much more front of house. That in turn is resulting in more students actually accessing that kind of information. "
Careers is one area that consistently scores well in the the FEFC's 150 annual college inspections. "But there is always room for improvement," Mr Donaldson stresses, and the next few years will place extra demands on colleges' capacity to retrain and revive people's employment prospects under the Government's Welfare to Work plans. "Colleges will have a central role to play in that, " he predicts.