How Colleges Can Help Tourism Businesses
Report Segment: Colleges Role
Skills provision is an imprecise science. Employers are rarely training specialists, so even though they may have some idea of skills they need in their organisation, they may be less clear about the underpinning knowledge required to attain those skills. Moreover colleges cannot design courses to fit every employer’s specification, and even if they could (and of course the customised offer goes some way to doing this), the cost to the employer would too often be prohibitive.
Colleges are on safer ground offering courses that school leavers wish to attend. But student demand has little relation to employer need or to the broader skills need of the local economy. Hospitality, catering and tourism courses have been a staple of the FE sector for many years. It could be argued that these courses do indeed meet the demand from school leavers and provide a steady flow of (partly) skilled labour into the workforce.
But not all would agree. Why would a business choose to take on students who are not the ‘finished product’? Aptitude, attitude and flexibility are high on all employers recruitment agenda and yet these attributes are so often lacking in college leavers. Colleges provide training which offers students an entry point into employment, but this is not suitable for all employers. Some hospitality and tourism businesses have even claimed that their local college is “irrelevant”. This needs to be rectified and the best way to do so is to develop collaborative initiatives which put the college at the heart of the solution. Undoubtedly this will involve change in the way colleges do business, and it should certainly lead to more focused CPD for college staff. As much as colleges need to change, more needs to be done to engage employers, encourage them to discover their local college and look at ways of working with FE to build their business.
Colleges cannot be expected to turn unpolished stones into precious gems overnight. Some students have the right attitude from day one, but many more take years to develop these interpersonal skills. Why would a business choose to take on students who are not the finished product? There can be lots of reasons: recruitment costs are high and so investing in a young person could mean years of service from a member of staff who can be developed in the company mould; bringing youthful vitality into the company can help update a tourism business and make it more attractive to a younger market; and perhaps most importantly, building a relationship with the local college can be extremely rewarding for the company, and may lead to it addressing staff training needs across the workforce.
What more could colleges do to meet employers needs? Getting out to businesses is the starting point. But the incentive for college staff to break out beyond their traditional client base is lacking – and the difficulty of justifying business engagement at the micro level is a further conundrum given the small numbers involved and therefore the lack of economies of scale. Why would colleges seek out difficult challenges and problems of engagement when they have a ‘day job’ of full time 16 – 19 courses to run?
Much more needs to be done to support the local college and the LEP has a key role to play in influencing this process. Local authority staff can be the eyes and ears of the FE sector, encouraging employers to participate and helping colleges to change and develop their course offers to meet employers needs.