By Daniel Hunter

New research collated by the further education (FE) sector has found that small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) are increasingly valuing recruits who have been to college, and are taking on apprentices and providing vocational training for their employees.

The findings — gathered from industry sources and from research commissioned by the cross-sector group — shows encouraging signs that further education is being taken seriously by employers. It’s also clear that there is more work to be done in demonstrating to businesses how recruiting workers with FE qualifications, or committing to external training for existing staff, can grow their businesses and improve staff retention.

While establishments recruiting education leavers generally find them well prepared for work, 17-18 year old recruits from FE colleges are more likely to be seen as well prepared than the same age group recruited from schools.

In particular, college leavers are seen by businesses as having better experience of the working world, and a better attitude and sense of motivation. Overall, almost three-quarters (73%) of college leavers are seen as being ‘well prepared’ or ‘very well prepared’ for work according to the employers who took them on.

The findings counter the popular perception that further education qualifications are less highly valued than more traditionally academic ones.

When it comes to training existing employees, almost three-quarters of employers (73%) provide some form of development opportunity for some or all of their staff, with nearly half - 47% - making use of external training for workforce development.

Nine in ten ‘young growth businesses’ - which have been set up in the last three years and are showing strong signs of growth — provide training for their staff, indicating a wider willingness to take on less experienced staff and train them in the particular skills that are required. Almost one in five (19%) take on recruits who have few or none of the skills required for the job and start from scratch.

Vocational qualifications are clearly highly valued by the employers that take advantage of them, and increasingly so. 86% of companies agree that having staff with vocational qualifications leads to better business performance, up from 81% in 2010. Over three quarters (77%) agree it leads to improved staff retention.

However, there is still work to do in encouraging employers to offer FE qualifications to their staff. The most common reason given by employers for not offering vocational qualifications was a perception that employees do not want them; something that perhaps needs to be investigated further in workplaces.

“Further education providers do a very successful job at orientating young people to be work ready with the right skills and attitude to hit the ground running when joining a company," Tony Lau-Walker, Chief Executive of Eastleigh College, and UKCES Commissioner, commented.

"FE providers also work with adults already in employment upskilling their knowledge and capability to become more productive at work and build a successful career pathway. Hundreds of employers work directly with colleges and other providers to tailor training for their own workforce to bring value for money to their training programmes.”

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