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Workforce development even more important during recession - New CBI/LSIS report

21 January 2009

Colleges and employers are working better together

Skills are even more important during tough economic times, according to a new report published 21 January 2009 by the CBI and LSIS.
The report, Reaching Further: Workforce development through employer-FE college partnership, calls for better and closer links between employers and further education (FE) colleges to help firms plug future skills gaps, drive up productivity and improve the prospects of British businesses in the face of the global downturn.
Commissioned by the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), the report shows that almost half of firms (47%) have links with FE colleges1. More than fifty per cent of employers lack confidence in there being enough skilled people to meet future demand. With the great majority of the workforce in 2020 having already left compulsory education, the importance of raising skill levels among those in work today becomes paramount.

Richard Lambert, Director-General of the CBI, said: "The case for greater collaboration between employers and colleges is compelling - being flexible and competitive is even more important for firms during a recession.

"We need to see more businesses considering what colleges can offer, and thinking clearly about their own training needs. But we also need to see more colleges upping their game to match the good practice already in evidence around the country."

The CBI/LSIS report contains examples of how employers and FE colleges can work effectively together to boost the skills base and help meet the ambitious targets set by the Government’s Leitch review to raise adult skills. These case studies include:

  • Unilever, which consolidated most of its 50 apprenticeships in one programme with West Cheshire College to raise standards, despite training each apprentice costing the company up to £100,000. 
  • FirstGroup, whose UK Bus Division worked with West Nottinghamshire College to embed literacy, numeracy and English for speakers of other languages into its NVQs for bus drivers across the UK, and has saved £5 million a year in staff turnover by offering its new recruits on-the-job training.
  • Marshall Aerospace, which outsourced administration and sourcing of funding for its apprenticeships to West Suffolk College to save time and money on an increasingly complex process.

Roger McClure, Chief Executive of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, said: “In these challenging times, we firmly believe that the partnership between education and business remains the key to economic success.

“This report shows many examples of where this partnership has worked to the mutual advantage of both parties and how it helps employers become more competitive.”

A number of lessons are drawn from the research in the report for strengthening the employer-college partnership, including that:

  • Effective customer relationship management is essential for colleges as is flexibility to deliver training where and when it is needed
  • Dialogue with employers must be based on skills needs
  • Continual change in training provision is inevitable so colleges need to be able to adapt
  • Workforce training can help improve business performance and employers should actively engage with colleges to help them understand their requirements, having identified in broad terms the skills they need
  • While employers are interested in skills not qualifications, they should appreciate the value staff place on formal qualifications
  • Setting objectives at the outset and jointly reviewing results at the end of a programme helps colleges to shape future offerings .

A key lesson for Government policy-makers, according to the report, is that training should be focused on real business needs, rather than just delivering qualifications.

Download the Reaching further report here  Download the report here - Reaching Further: Workforce development through employer-FE college partnership


1. CBI/Edexcel Education & Skills Survey (2008)

LSIS’s World Class Skills programme supports providers in their relationships with employers. More information is at

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