Commercialisation doesn’t have to be a dirty word


22 July 2016 / Be the first to comment

It’s no secret that, thanks to the area reviews and apprenticeship reform, the FE sector is under-going the most significant period of change it has ever seen. These changes mean that we are going to see FE colleges moving away from being state funded institutions to being for profit businesses which must meet the demands of its customers if they are to survive.

The stark fact is that, whether colleges agree with the area reviews or not, they must embrace the transformation they are bringing to the FE sector now. The alternative is that in 18 months’ time they may no longer exist.

Whilst we all undergo the inevitable pain of change, we must try and remember that it’s not all bad. There are many opportunities to be had for those who are willing and able to adapt to the new environment.

At City & Guilds we are already working with many colleges across the UK to help them adjust their organisation to meet the demands of the area reviews and ensure they are ready for the future. This means looking at the organisation with a keen commercial eye and reshaping it to meet the demands of the local and national market-place.

We know that this is going to be a huge cultural shift for many colleges, but it is possible to do. I’ve put together some top tips for colleges still scratching their heads about where to get started in making their organisation more commercial:

1) Employ a team who know how to talk to employers – Skills Minister Nick Boles MP told colleges that they should aim to have two-thirds of their businesses funded via apprenticeships in the future. To enable them to do this many colleges will have to sell their services direct to businesses for the first time. And that is just one potential opportunity for colleges to sell direct to employers – there are many more (some noted below).

My recommendation is to either invest in the development of your current workforce or employ people to do this for you if you don’t have the right skills in house. Marketing, business development and sales specialists could give you the competitive edge and help open doors with local employers.

Manchester College are an amazing example of an organisation who have done this to great effect. They have recruited outside of the sector to add new specialisms including sales, marketing, planning and HR and as a result are now working very successfully with employers in their area.

2) Think outside of the box – It’s not just about vocational education anymore so think about what else you have that customers might want. Do you have great facilities that you can hire out? Could you offer CPD for local employers to ensure a regular flow of income throughout the years? There could be huge untapped potential sitting within your organisation if you just work out how to unlock it.

3) Ensure your business strategy is based on market data - Understanding and meeting the needs of employers and the local jobs market will make your business more self-sufficient and sustainable. Think like a big retailer and ensure that you understand what your potential customers really want / will want in the future and make sure that your college can provide it.

4) Build relationships with employers and your local LEP – If you aren’t already then start to contact local employers and ask for meetings so you can ask them directly what they want and need. All large employers will now be paying the apprenticeship levy so this could be an obvious door opener – could you help them deliver apprenticeships and make the most of their investment? Also work closely with your local LEP ensure that you fully understand what skills are needed in your area.

5) Should you specialise? – Being a ‘jack of all trades’ might not be the best strategy anymore. Specialising could cut your costs and help you to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Many of you will have seen that the Government have just announced that there will be five new national colleges which specialise in areas from digital to high speed rail. Could you do something similar? Consider what the demand is in your local market place and think about how your strengths map to that and reshape your business accordingly.

6) Think about your brand and marketing your business – you are going to be in competition with other colleges and training providers for business. To be successful you’ll need to be able to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd both to learners and parents and particularly to businesses.

Be clear on what you stand for as an organisation, who your customers are and what you can offer them and market your business to your strengths. Make sure that your brand allows you to be seen as a viable commercial organisation.

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