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New report and podcast: Skills, Innovation, and Productivity – The Role of Further Education in Local and Regional Ecosystems

The Innovation Caucus partnered with Ben Verinder from Chalkstream to study the role of Further Education Colleges (FECs) in local and regional ecosystems for The Productivity Institute with support from the Gatsby Foundation. This research builds on previous work undertaken by the Innovation Caucus that reviewed literature on FEC engagement and contribution to addressing skills gaps in their local economies and explored the relationship between business and further education.

by Dr Jen Nelles (Innovation Caucus Senior Research Fellow)

This report – Skills, Innovation, and Productivity: The Role of Further Education Colleges in Local and Regional Ecosystems –  summarises findings from interviews of 16 FECs across the country and focused on characterising the ecosystem and the types of actors with which FECs interact with the aim of:
  • understanding how FECs assess and respond to employer needs
  • understanding the drivers of FEC engagement with their ecosystems and their clarity of purpose in doing so
  • establishing their perceptions about contribution to their ecosystems (with a focus on innovation and growth)
  • highlighting what works well, as well as barriers to realising their ambitions
The study found that FECs have many and varied relationships with stakeholders within their local economies, including complex and highly important relationships with the community of employers. Colleges viewed their missions more broadly than education and innovation policy tends to characterise it, as contributing to the growth and wellbeing of their communities – a term which encompassed both their immediate community of learners, the neighbourhoods they live and work in, employers, and the civic actors that sustain the system. That said, addressing localised skills and employer needs were a central part of that mission and the report identifies challenges related to resources, the policy environment, and external factors. The report reflects that FECs are more than just skills providers and that the process of skills provision is not linear, predictable, or simple to quantify. It also stresses that FECs’ responses to employer needs and ecosystem engagement strategies are highly shaped by the local economies within which they are embedded. This suggests a need to move beyond policies that treat the further education sector as monolithic and for innovations that enable local stakeholders more flexibility in meeting the demands of their communities.
Report authors Jen Nelles (Innovation Caucus) and Ben Verinder (Chalkstream) recently joined Bart van Ark on The Productivity Institute’s podcast series Productivity Puzzles to discuss the findings of this report.