the learning and Skills Council alienates many employers seeking advice on college-based training and leaves them with a negative impression of further education, according to a survey.
Evidence of the extent to which local learning and skills councils turn off employers is revealed in an Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by the council to assess the status and reputation of FE.
The survey shows that a high proportion of employers who ask for advice having never used colleges before are among the most critical of potential users and stakeholders. The council admits it cannot explain the results of the survey of almost 900 people, organisations and industries.
"The reason is unclear from the data, and further research with these stakeholders would be useful as a means of untangling this," the council says.
Further education generally is well respected, according to the findings. However, it emerges as a system dogged by divisions and distrust. People generally also still have a narrow view of the sector: "When stakeholders talk about the FE system, they are essentially thinking about FE and sixth-form colleges." Other training providers were rarely mentioned.
The study was done to influence the work of the FE Reputation Steering Group, set up by the Government and LSC following the Foster Review of the future of colleges and 2006 FE white paper. More than 20 colleges and other providers are working with representatives from industry and government to recommend reforms.
However, the study shows that while users of FE are generally satisfied, "the system is invisible to the general population" or at best has "a low national profile". One of the main reasons cited was the lack of a "sector champion".
While schools always have high-profile advocates such as Lord Puttnam, who championed the Teachers' Awards, FE seldom has. People may praise FE if urged to do so but they seldom "speak without being asked".
In addition, the report identifies four issues that must be achieved to give FE a national reputation. First, people have to be satisfied with local services. Second, there has to be more employer involvement. Third, the system has to be seen as well respected. Fourth, people have to see real choice.
Two thirds of those interviewed believed FE had a major impact on the national economy and productivity. A similar number said FE had a significant influence in improving local communities.
Half said that the choice of provision had improved, as against one-fifth who thought it had got worse. However, echoing what Sir Andrew Foster said in his report of 2005, the Ipsos MORILSC study found people were far more positive about local than national performance of FE. While some progress has been made improving the image and reputation of FE, the same old prejudices remain as were around pre-Foster. FE and sixth-form colleges are key advocates of the system, while training providers and employers who have never used FE are its fiercest critics," says the report.