What is the future of the FE workforce?

In what are challenging but exciting times for Further Education (FE), Claire Barker, Business Development Manager of de Poel education discusses how recruitment is changing:

Further Education is in the midst of arguably the toughest climate yet; caught between a national recruitment shortage, rising student expectations and increasing costs – exacerbated by self-regulation, funding cuts, changes to DWP work programmes, new legislation such as the Apprenticeship Levy, a changing political landscape and the impact of regional devolution. One thing is certain – change in the sector is constant (and still gathering speed), with FE leaders facing a daunting set of challenges.

If the balancing act of fulfilling safeguarding obligations with depleting budgets – with Area Reviews serving as a metaphorical spanner in the workers – wasn’t enough of a test for those individuals with people and budget responsibilities, it is the crucial overarching mission of creating and sustaining a viable, adaptable financial and funding model to power organisational success, that only adds pressure to this.

The transformation of colleges was much talked about at the recent AoC Conference, and is clearly necessary in the context of ever greater social need, an increasingly competitive marketplace, mergers, federations and so forth. However, the same resounding question on everyone’s lips was ‘who is going to actually do it and how?’ A well led HR department should be right at the heart of the transformation, serving as evangelical advocates of change and recognising that people are the greatest resource. However, with this onerous task requiring the full attention and sole focus of HR and hiring managers, as a result, when it comes to recruitment, some colleges are often left with little or no time to review their supply cover provision and plan this accordingly.

With barriers such as declining pay – especially when compared to pay offered by schools – severe shortages in certain specialisms, a lack of understanding when it comes to transitioning trainee teachers into FE, and challenging common misconceptions of the profession, colleges are fighting to win the hearts and minds of their future workforce.

An innovative, technology-driven, self-funded solution is now being adopted by a handful of pioneering colleges, alleviating HR and hiring managers of the burdens often associated with recruitment – enabling them to refocus their precious time and energy elsewhere. A framework-compliant ‘neutral vendor’ model like de Poel allows colleges to engage with recruitment agencies and manage their supply cover in a different, more cost-effective and strategic way. This comprises of significant improvements and efficiency savings, streamlined administration, access to an increased talent pool of teaching professionals and recruitment agencies that compete on quality, not price.

The model works by creating a carefully selected, compliant, agency panel whereby all suppliers agree to transparent, standardised terms and conditions and rates. This is supported by a technology platform like de Poel’s e-tips® which locks these rates down, enabling candidate bookings to ordered through the system – a simple, easy and quick way to track and manage the recruitment process.

Importantly, the right neutral vendor solution will offer all of the above, whilst still championing fair pay for teachers and ensuring all supplying agencies support candidates on a programme of Continuous Professional Development, specifically related to delivering supply in colleges. It is a process of continual improvement, as CPD should always be.

With 15,000 less teachers since 2009, according to Gov.UK statistics, now is a critical time for FE to further get to grips with recruitment. Colleges are increasingly looking to their counterparts in the temporary supply recruitment space, as means to procuring a cost-effective, engaged workforce, able to expand and contract concurrently with the ebb and flow of the academic calendar and their own specific requirements.

Whilst there is no overnight solution, a neutral vendor model can alleviate the pressures of recruitment by working collaboratively with colleges to help them realise significant improvements and efficiencies within just three to six months – and beyond. Typical savings of up to 15% within supply staffing agency spend are not uncommon with suppliers working to transparent KPIs and toward a common goal, channeled through an independent intermediary focused solely on the college’s best interests – one less thing to keep busy FE leaders awake at night.