Responding to a system where employers are ‘in the driving seat’

Responding to a system where employers are ‘in the driving seat’

31st May 2018

As I write this, I’m in Manchester getting ready for the sixth of nine roundtable discussions that we are currently holding with the support of FETL under the title “Employers In The Driving Seat?: New Thinking in FE”.

The previous events have all been well-attended by a huge range of sector leaders, discussing how the changing dynamics of the FE and skills system affects the thinking of its leaders – and seeing what this may tell us about our purpose, our direction, and how we can use this information to improve the effectiveness of everything we do going forward.

We are still working through reams of notes and transcripts at the moment but one thing is already becoming clear. Despite what many say, many providers are still not really aware of exactly how much influence they have, and are often allowing their decisions to be guided by the rhetoric that employers are in the driving seat of the reforms rather than centring their decisions on their own vital role in guiding the employer through the process. As one attendee put it – it is not so much that employers are in the driving seat, but that employer needs are in the driving seat.

There are however a variety of players needed to articulate these needs and make them work within the constraints of a state-funded vocational education system that is conflating the policy need for an industrialised skills strategy with a potentially completely separate requirement for a further education system – two for the price of one, if you will, but a conflation that makes for a complex and fractured system that it can be very difficult for any organisation to navigate alone. Providers however have a unique bank of experience and expertise to draw on, and where they start from this premise, they are better able to both influence the direction and effectiveness of the provision they oversee.

Some areas are interesting by their absence from the discussions so far; for example, what effect do sector leaders think the exponential speed of technological change will have on the ability of providers to deliver their wares, or to affect policy overall? Is the fact that no one has so far raised this an indication that it is not viewed as important, or is it just that the sector is allowing itself to be being blinded to big questions by the minutiae of the day-to-day?

There’s a lot to find out yet but equally there is a huge willingness on the part of attendees to help us to untangle the arguments and try to see a way forward. I’m very much looking forward to this latest roundtable and of course the ones to come – and if you have any thoughts on any of this (do have a look at the stimulus paper to get a flavour of the thinking and discussions), do let us know!

Paul Warner is Director of Research and Development at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (E:

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