A nationwide training programme has been launched to raise the standard of college managers. The Further Education Development Agency is spearheading the drive amid concerns that managers are ill-equipped to deal with the demands of an increasingly complex sector.
FEDA officials are planning new professional qualifications for managers. But there will also be an extension of work-shadowing schemes and fresh research into differing management styles.
A national consultation exercise is planned to identify how best to target training, as well as a separate training drive for middle managers in Welsh FE colleges.
FEDA officials believe there is too little help for staff rising up through the ranks in colleges, and say work is needed to nurture the principals and vice-principals of the future.
That problem may be more acute for colleges seeking new principals because of a wave of retirements.
The potential for recruitment to top management jobs is also affected by the trend towards axing vice-principal posts as colleges copy private companies in an attempt to make efficiency savings.
But there are also fears that many managers in FE are unprepared for dealing with many of the problems facing the sector.
John Mowbray, general secretary of the Association of College Management, said: "We have been very conscious for some time, indeed since incorporation, that many managers at all levels find themselves with the sorts of problems for which they have never had any training.
"There is a tremendous training gap and there is a tremendous need for training at all levels.
"There is an urgent priority to address these issues. It's led to stress, it's led to illness and it's led to an exodus from the sector."
He said the association was already working on training managers to deal with pay and conditions negotiations.
FEDA officials insist their training initiative is not a short-term response to problems in management, but an attempt to foster good managers over the longer term.
FEDA's chief executive, Stephen Crowne, said: "The world of FE has changed significantly in the past four years and new challenges are emerging for managers at all levels.
"College management teams need increasingly sophisticated approaches to ensure that FE can meet those challenges effectively.
"The management development initiative will be designed and delivered to enhance the management skills and vision needed for colleges to succeed.
"A good deal of management practice within FE is excellent. We want to identify and draw upon best practice, make this even better, and spread it throughout the sector."
Consultation to identify the training needed will start this spring.
FEDA provides the only MBA in further education, as well as NVQs in college management.
But the agency may face competition, despite its latest initiative. The ACM is working with the Institute of Management to develop a bespoke management qualification for FE colleges.
Michael Wright, principal of Kendal College, who chairs an ACM working group on management training, said he could not endorse current training and qualifications aimed at FE managers.
"It's not sector-recognised, it has no background; it is NVQ-based and it's not terribly transferable," he said.
"We are trying to come up with a programme of management training developed by FE managers for FE managers."
The Association of Colleges has also expressed interest in competing for the management training market. The AOC's latest circular offers colleges a whole package - including psychometric testing - to help them to recruit principals and senior managers.