Employers urged to partner with colleges to upskill staff

Report suggests lifelong learning is central to helping businesses rebound from the pandemic

The CIPD has called on employers to build stronger partnerships with further education (FE) colleges to upskill workers and futureproof businesses’ skills pipelines and workforce planning.

Reacting to a report from the Independent Commission on the College of the Future, which has called for colleges to gain better support so employers can deliver lifelong education and training in the face of a changing economy and jobs market, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said upskilling was of “critical economic and societal importance”.

“FE colleges should play a major part in this with their natural community connection and focus on vocational and employability skills, and through enabling lifelong learning. Building stronger partnerships with employers and with proper funding, now is the time to reinvigorate this sector for all our futures,” said Cheese, who is also a member of the Independent Commission on the College of the Future.

The College of the Future report said education and skills policies were in need of radical change to enable more people to train, upskill or acquire new skills. It cited recent research from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which found nine in 10 workers would need to reskill by 2030 and suggested that Covid-19, Brexit and increased automation would drive the need for greater access to further education and training.

The report recommended colleges be empowered to develop a unique service for local employers to train and upskill future and current employees, and suggested establishing sector specialist ‘employer hubs’ to tackle skills gaps and give businesses a one-stop shop for “upskilling current employees and finding the skilled workers they need, as well as innovation support”.

Additionally, it recommended colleges work with employer groups to design curriculums. This would avoid “unproductive competition between institutions”, and ensure everyone could access high-quality education, it said.

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David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said the report challenged the government, employers and colleges to build a new system. “It places colleges at the heart of their communities and leading in local labour markets. It asks employers to work in long-term partnerships with colleges to develop the human capital for their businesses to be successful,” said Hughes.

Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director and another member of the commission, said colleges had a vital role in upskilling UK workers: “The commission’s report sets out a bold vision for how institutions can collaborate with businesses to boost the life chances of people from all backgrounds.”

This was echoed by Sir Ian Diamond, chair of the commission and of the UK Statistics Authority. He said lifelong learning was central to helping people and businesses rebound from the pandemic. “We must all commit to a bold ambition on skills. Lifelong learning is the only way to ensure people and businesses will survive the recession and thrive in the future. With the right support, colleges can deliver on this urgent need for every community,” he said.