From Devo Manc to the Sheffield city deal to the Northern Powerhouse, there’s a buzz around city-level devolution. For those of us working on skills and employment, one of the most exciting elements of this is the possibility of linking local skills providers, such as colleges, more closely to the needs of their local labour markets. This is a complex task which requires balancing the needs of learners, employers, the colleges themselves, as well as the emerging city and local governance arrangements.
One thing that can tie these disparate elements together is local labour market intelligence (LMI). This can be many things, but at its broadest definition, LMI is a set of comparable data on skills needs, vacancies, skills gaps, and wages. LMI provides colleges with the information they need to ensure the skills they deliver are aligned with the labour markets they serve.
To support this vital role, and to help colleges get the most from the LMI that is available, the Association of Colleges (AoC) and UKCES have produced a guide for leaders of further education colleges – Using labour market intelligence in a college context.
This guidance has been designed to help colleges maximise LMI in their business planning and curriculum strategy, looking at issues like the economic profile of their catchment areas, planning their curriculum offer, and matching these to the labour market of their local area.
There are several sources of reputable and authoritative LMI, of which UKCES is just one. While much of the relevant information is available without charge on the UKCES website, the guide also explains and sign-posts the wealth of sources available.
LMI can act as a multiplier, adding to and enriching other sources on information on the local circumstances. For example, it can tell a clear story about what the skills requirements are in an area, for example by sector, occupation, and location, as well as a guide to what these might be in the future. However, deciding the optimal mix of provision and finely tuning course content requires input from employers and other local partners. Using the data-driven approach to understand the economic conditions in an area and how they affect business and industry will prove invaluable for colleges when they are having conversations with local partners.
Looking at LMI has other benefits, too. The guidance also suggests that colleges can examine local data to help identify commercial opportunities. One example is in providing training services for workforce development in local employers. UK-wide, employers spent £43bn on training in 2013 – yet only 14 per cent used college or universities to provide that training. One reason that employers cite for not doing so is that there is a lack of relevant courses, so engaging employers in tailoring course content could be key to unlocking this potential. (UKCES has touched on this theme before, in our New Conversation, Forging Futures, and Local Outcomes reports.)
It’s a win-win – college leaders can be confident of meeting the needs of their customers, and employers can get access to more relevant training. LMI can be the key to aligning education and training provision with the needs of the local labour market.