Looking after the workforce will be key

18th June 2010 at 01:00
If you are a woman you could do far worse than plan a career in further education.

If you are a woman you could do far worse than plan a career in further education.

You could, for instance, go into law, where about one in ten QCs are women and about one in seven are High Court judges. Or, if you fancy a real challenge, you could try becoming a member of the Cabinet.

By contrast, nearly two thirds of the total FE workforce is female, as is 61 per cent of its managers - figures that stand up well against comparable professions such as academe and teaching.

The real difficulties begin when women set their sights on becoming senior managers or principals. At this level the female to male ratios are the reverse of those in the general FE workforce.

The latest Women's Leadership Network report (page 3) reveals that nearly half of women have experienced barriers to progression. Just as tellingly, almost nine out of ten women believe there to be obstacles to advancement - and perceptions count for a lot when plucking up the courage to apply for promotion.

Last week's report on bullying from the University and College Union suggested that colleges have other human resources issues (page 4) they need to address. Interestingly, the report revealed that women are more likely to feel they are being bullied.

One message to be gleaned from these two reports is that, while colleges have made tremendous strides in improving human resources management in recent years and perform well against comparable organisations, there is a way to go.

Delivering further improvement would be important enough in settled times. But it becomes absolutely vital in the face of austerity and the likelihood of widespread structural upheaval in FE.

It is not just a question of promoting equity. Rather, fairness should be the by-product of a more professional and consistent approach to staff management in FE.

We see the beginnings of a new direction of travel for education and skills in this week's announcement by the minister John Hayes (page 1).

The additional freedoms promised for colleges are welcome. But colleges would do well to remember that with power comes responsibility. Mr Hayes speaks of unlocking the energies and talents of college teachers and learners. FE will want to think more on these words.

Alan Thomson, Editor, FE Focus?

E alan.thomson@tsleducation.com.

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