The transformation of the further education sector over the past 10 years has been dramatic, not only because so many colleges have been modernised or rebuilt, but in the way in which they have emerged as the first port of call for businesses looking to update the skills of their staff.
More recently, the Leitch Review on the UK's skills deficit has provided a stimulus for colleges to become even more business-facing, supported by a raft of government initiatives designed to encourage and subsidise employers that want to upskill their workforce. This has resulted in changes to college staffing policy to include a much higher percentage with recent commercial experience, as well as more flexible approaches that have led to bespoke training packages for some of our country's leading employers. BAE Systems, Bentley, United Biscuits and Flybe are just a few of the recognisable names currently working in partnership with their local colleges.
Old skool, new skool
There is still a long way to go before all employers are convinced that colleges can offer them solutions to training and skills problems: only 26% use their local college regularly, despite a high satisfaction rating from those that do.
It takes time for the old image of the technical college to finally fade away and be replaced by the picture of the new-look college prepared to offer support pretty much any time and anywhere. Most colleges these days, for example, will deliver courses on-site, as well as in the college itself, and many are able to fit in with shift patterns or irregular working.
Gift of knowledge
The point of training, of course, is not really the joy of learning for its own sake, but its impact on the bottom line - something that tends to be forgotten at times of economic crisis.
Arguably, this is the very time when investment in training should be increased. In a recession, when downsizing may be necessary, it is even more important that the employees who remain in the workforce have the necessary skills to fill the gaps left by those who have gone.
Colleges also offer excellent value for money at such times, not least as a result of significant government subsidies.