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Developing a career-centric strategy to FE delivery

Lisa O’Loughlin is Principal of The Manchester College, winners of The Careers & Enterprise Company Award for Innovation at the annual Association of Colleges (AoC) Beacon Awards. Here Lisa outlines their whole college approach to careers that aligns education with employability.

Hear more from Lisa and other guests by registering for the AoC’s Careers Excellence in Practice webinar on 18th June. aoc colleges lisa

At The Manchester College our mantra is ‘Careers not courses’. In simplest terms this approach can be characterised by the fact that we embed future employability and positive career prospects into every stage of the student journey.

That commitment starts at the very top and has been integral to our whole strategic review. It’s an approach that has been highly successful and led to us collecting this year’s AoC Beacon Award in the Innovation in Careers and Enterprise category. 

A focus on careers at every level

Our journey to excellence in this area started in 2016 with the launch of our 2020 Strategy. The strategy outlined our ambition to shift the culture from one of support to a healthy balance between support and challenge for our colleagues and students.

The ‘challenge’ component of this was getting students to think beyond the next steps of their education and instead to focus on what their ultimate career ambitions are so that we can proactively help them achieve their aspirations.

At the point of launch we were starting from zero in terms of connecting education with employment and it was clear that if were we to be successful we would have to adopt a ‘whole college’ approach to developing a careers-centric education.

To achieve this, it was vital that we ensured that careers permeated at every level within the College including the Senior Leadership Team, College governors, our support teams and curriculum colleagues.

A dedicated employability team

To help deliver the strategy, in 2017 we established an Employability and Partnership Team to support all curriculum areas with employability preparation and sourcing work placement opportunities. The team was tasked with creating unique links between curriculum, students and employers and to ensure that all students had the opportunity to undertake a work placement.

Due to the integral role that the team would play in ensuring the strategy was a success the College made a substantial investment in the team and has continued to invest in it since, to the point that it now represents nearly 5% of the College’s total pay budget.

In addition to the investment, the College also developed a Careers Plan that integrates curriculum learning, work placement and employability opportunities and personal support. This offers students a seamless, holistic experience along their pathways to work-readiness, ensuring the whole College plays its part in students’ success.

Embedding careers into every student touchpoint

By ensuring that careers permeated across the entire organisation, we have been able to embed a focus on careers into every touchpoint that we have with our students. This includes every stage of their lifecycle with us from application to enrolment to delivery of the curriculum, engagement with achievement tutors and the support they receive. 

By closely aligning careers and education, students are not only empowered to make informed decisions about their next steps, but the College is also able to prepare students to fulfil their future career ambitions and life goals. This applies regardless of the students starting point as helping a student achieve their full potential is the main reason why we are so dedicated to helping them have all the tools they require for a future career.

A recipe for success

We now have over a thousand partnerships, covering every subject area, with employers across Greater Manchester and the North West. These relationships have led us to start running courses that are co-developed and co-delivered with employers and have enabled us to launch our Industry Excellence Academy where students will have even better opportunities to prepare for a future career.

This integrated approach ensures that every student, regardless of ability, has realistic opportunities to experience effective and meaningful encounters with employers and learn all the essential skills required for a rewarding career. Given the size, scale and wide geographical spread of our campuses, to have embedded this firmly into our culture is a remarkable achievement.

Having had very little in place four years ago, the whole College now views careers education as integral to every stage of the learner journey. As a result of this focus on future career prospects, our student achievement levels have improved significantly and we are now the number one College for overall achievement in Greater Manchester.

Sign up for the webinar here.