Dr Sam Parrett OBE

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How Can Colleges Best Support London’s Economic Recovery?

The global economy has taken a huge hit during the Covid-19 pandemic – and London has not escaped this. Although the full extent of the damage is not yet clear, thoughts are turning to recovery and how to go about not just rebuilding, but ‘building back better’.

Further Education has quite rightly been placed at the centre of the Government’s plans. People who have lost jobs as a result of the pandemic must be supported to re-skill and upskill, while young people must be encouraged to progress into industries offering prospects and opportunity over the coming years. But if we are to deliver on this as a sector, we need to be provided with more autonomy to enable effective decision-making, adequate financial support and ultimately the respect and understanding that colleges genuinely are best placed to lead this element of the recovery.

We know that churning out more ‘qualifications’ is not enough. Indeed, this runs the risk of people spending more time and money studying, only to end up with another qualification but being no nearer to gaining real employment. The job market has changed dramatically over the past year. Tourism, hospitality and events have taken a huge hit, while the digital, food & retail and logistics sectors have seen rapid growth.

Colleges must recognise this shift and work in partnership with employers to ensure that local skills needs are being met. We need to guide and support our students – both those starting out in their careers and those looking to change jobs – into sectors with prospects, which will support economic growth going forward.

Here at London South East Colleges, we have set up a successful partnership with our local NHS Trust, who needs to recruit people to support the vaccine rollout across region. The College is providing essential training to candidates, preparing them to enter the NHS recruitment process as well as supporting experienced staff already working in the health service. Our ‘Get Ready’ programme is equipping participants with the skills, knowledge and behaviours to support them to access the job opportunities generated by the vaccination programme; laying the foundation for an exciting career within the NHS. This type of employer-college partnership is intrinsic to economic recovery. ‘Building back better’ requires teamwork, with everyone playing their part to support new growth.

And this idea of community wealth building, links into our own College’s commitment to generating social value. Colleges sit at the heart of their communities and play a much more significant role than simply being a qualifications factory. A College’s social contribution includes, for example, local supply chain spend, community projects, student work experience and staff volunteering initiatives. These activities increase aspiration within a community, encourage social mobility and create opportunity.

We are now quantifying the amount of social value we generate, using the National Themes Outcomes and Measures (TOMS) framework and the social value portal. Over 2019-20, our group generated £31.75 million in additional social value, beyond the economic benefits that result from our students progressing into employment.

This is helping us to demonstrate the wider impact we have as a College. We hope this will give the whole sector greater recognition as to the crucial economic role it plays – and must be supported to go on playing.

This blog is by Dr Sam Parrett OBE: CEO and Group Principal at London South East Colleges.

This is the first in a series of blogs by Collab Group London Principals in the run-up to the London Mayoral Elections 2021

To find out more about London South East Colleges, check out their website here.

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