Scottish colleges must engage with industry, says report

Scottish colleges offering land-based education and training must engage more effectively with industry, schools and the wider community to ensure the sector’s growing employment needs are met, according to a new report.

Greater engagement would make colleges more aware of employers’ demands for robust skills training to ensure learners are equipped with the abilities they value, according to the National Strategy for Land-based Education and Training.

In addition, schools and prospective students need to be more aware of the vast opportunities within the land-base industries to encourage them to pursue careers in the sector, it said.

David James, SRUC’s assistant principal further education, who co-ordinated the strategy’s development with the involvement of 16 other colleges, said: "Industry engagement is limited across several land-based sectors. Although there are many good examples of close engagement, such as within game-keeping and land-based engineering, this is not always the case.  The weakening of industry links over time have, on many occasions, resulted in colleges becoming less aware of the emphasis employers place on embedded practical skills training.

"There is a need for a more centralised and co-ordinated national approach to enable more effective industry engagement. We view the high level of industry engagement in producing the National Strategy as a very positive signal that there is great scope to improve collaboration between colleges and industry."

The report suggests a National Land-based Strategy Group (NLSG) should be established to take forward its series of recommendations, including the establishment of national industry liaison groups to support a more effective engagement.

With around 3000 new employees needed in the sector every year, the NLSG should also seek to support colleges in promoting career opportunities and the ‘learning pathways’ students need to follow. This should involve liaison with industry, bodies such as Lantra and Skills Development Scotland and also, crucially, schools.

In addition to the need for greater engagement, the new report highlights a number of other priority areas, both on a national scale and in relation to the 12 specific land-based industry sectors.

In the agriculture sector for example, the report recommends extended work placement opportunities being integrated within full-time courses. It also suggests more part-time provision should be developed which meets employer needs, including flexible online agriculture awards and training materials.

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