Lifelong Learning UK to recruit entrepreneurs and dynamic bosses as a catalyst for change in colleges and training services.
Further education bosses are searching for 75 leading entrepreneurs, such as Sir Alan Sugar or Sir Richard Branson, to take over as college principals and heads of training providers.
In an effort to make colleges more dynamic and entrepreneurial, Lifelong Learning UK, the body responsible for the FE workforce's development, is planning a recruitment drive this year to entice chief executives from the private sector. The target is to attract 75 business leaders who will help to create a "cultural shift" in FE leadership.
It is one of four "catalyst projects" intended to create a new generation of dynamic leaders, attract new recruits for shortage subjects and keep lecturers' skills up to date.
LLUK admits that the process, dubbed Business Talent, is likely to have critics within colleges. Rebecca Brown, marketing manager for the new projects, said: "We understand this is potentially a very provocative and controversial thing to be doing.
"People say it's been tried before and won't last five minutes. But it's up to this programme to find out what will make it work.
"The places that have expressed an interest are the ones that are already doing well. It's the ones who are not doing so well who are resisting this. People who are doing it right see this as a great opportunity to get someone with new skills."
Successful entrepreneurs who are now motivated by something other than money are the main targets. There will be no subsidy to pay higher wages to the private sector recruits, at least initially.
"I'm hoping that Richard Branson or Alan Sugar would apply," Ms Brown said, although LLUK expects that leaders of smaller businesses are more likely contenders.
Ms Brown accepted that attracting business leaders could prove difficult. "Why would someone working for a large company, with share options and so on, work as a principal in one of the most regulated parts of the public sector? But we will be looking for people at the pinnacle of their careers who aren't necessarily motivated by money."
The business leaders could work in colleges, with work-based learning providers or in adult and community learning centres, but Sir Andrew Foster's 2005 review of the future role of FE colleges identified them as being in particular need of "a quantum leap in leadership development and performance".
Another catalyst programme, Make A Difference, aims to seek out candidates for middle management who could become the college principals and deputies of the future. "Graduate calibre" workers from either colleges or the private sector will be recruited and given training to put them on a fast track for promotion.
Two further programmes will concentrate on teaching staff. Pass On Your Skills is another recruitment campaign, aimed at people in industry with the skills to teach one of eight shortage subjects. The initial focus will be on engineering and health and beauty experts.
Existing college lecturers will have the chance to update industry- specific skills through Business Interchange, an initiative that is already being trialled. It will offer lecturers a place at a business to keep them informed of changes in industry practice, as well as allowing employers to send staff into a college to better understand the training system and help it meet their needs.
Julian Gravatt, director of funding and development at the Association of Colleges, said colleges were already entrepreneurial.
"While any investment aimed at increasing innovation and enterprise is welcomed, it is worth pointing out that many colleges already possess a deep pool of entrepreneurial and business talent. Most colleges have an active business development unit and the majority of lecturers have industry experience," he said.
"There are likely to be limits on the ability of further education to attract entrepreneurs. Private and public sectors differ greatly in terms of regulation, for instance. College activity as a business is heavily regulated by legislation such as the 2000 Learning and Skills Act."
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