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Further education must recruit more leaders from outside the sector

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More applicants from outside the FE and skills sector should be encouraged to apply for leadership roles within it in order to introduce talent, increasing challenge and bring different thinking. 

This key recommendation from a new report commissioned from AELP and the 157 Group by the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) follows recognition in many parts of the sector that recruiting solely from within the sector may mean that we have become adept at solving yesterday’s problems rather than tackling what the future might bring. The recognition has resulted in a growing trend towards recruiting from outside the sector. Project case studies found that those recruited from outside the sector can also be highly successful and can adjust relatively quickly to the different types of demands placed on them.  In practice they tend to find that there is very little difference in the leadership skills required of them compared to their previous roles elsewhere.

Despite this, some governing bodies and boards still hesitate on the opportunity for recruitment from outside the sector, pointing to the need for all leaders to understand its culture and rules in order to be successful.  FETL and the other project partners for this report, AELP and the 157 Group, say this needs to be encouraged if the sector’s leadership is not to stagnate. The project partners point to substantial reforms facing the sector as a major reason for adopting a fresh approach to recruitment.  The changes include English devolution, area reviews and the apprenticeship reforms. Given these challenges, all leaders, whether new or well established, need to consider whether they have got the balance right between the doing part of their role and the time they spend thinking about and shaping the future.

Recruitment and induction
As well as wanting to see more recruitment of leaders from outside the sector, the report recommends: organisations rethinking the pre-interview advice and information that they provide so as to present a more complete picture of the role and their organisation to non-sector applicants organisations needing to communicate the rationale behind non-sector recruitment clearly to staff leaders recruited from outside the sector being encouraged to retain their more independent perspective for as long as possible. The report adds that to avoid misunderstandings, staff and key stakeholders need to be aware that new leaders have a remit to look at things in a different way.

Value of leadership exchanges
The project partners call on the sector to encourage more engagement between new and established leaders from the different parts of FE and skills. A range of mechanisms also need to be developed to stimulate discussions around innovative approaches to leadership thinking. Dame Ruth Silver, President of FETL, said: “The rapidly changing landscape for the sector demands that we look ‘ everywhere and elsewhere’ in forging a future for ourselves.

“This report is important because it demonstrates clearly the benefits of recruiting widely for the best leaders from outside as well as  FE and Skills, while also increasing guidance on how best to recruit, support and maximise the impact of these new leaders, both within the institution and more widely.” AELP CEO Mark Dawe said: “Independent training providers often recruit from outside as they operate at a business to business level with employers.  Nevertheless the apprenticeship levy is a game-changer for the sector and so it entirely right and healthy for all types of provider to undertake some fresh thinking on leadership as this report advocates.”

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