Ian Pretty outlines the future vision for Collab Group.

Ian Pretty, CEO, Collab Group
19 October 2016

Ten years ago a group of colleges came together with a grand vision. Michael Foster said “There is a strong need for articulate FE college principals to be explaining the services they give to society and how colleges can make a significant contribution to the economy and to developing fulfilled citizens.”

These principals formed what would become the 157 Group, an organisation formed to showcase the best of what FE can be. Since then the 157 Group has lived up to its promise, it has been a voice of credibility -  of experts - in this sector and its achievements have been far reaching. 

The 157 Group provoked and stimulated debate through think pieces and publications, encouraging the sector to always improve, to always keep challenging ourselves. 

We have run projects that sought to impact the sector in positive, long lasting way. 

The work the 157 Group has done on peer networks, on the Leadership Conversation Project, on our Prevent Toolkit, on STEM, on Study Programmes and on many other initiatives has been revolutionary.

We can truly say the FE sector is a better place because those forward thinking principals of large colleges took up Michael Foster’s challenge to lead. 

We must now continue that legacy of leadership, of influencing, of revolutionary thinking, that brought us to this point. We must build on the progress we have made, never losing sight of what has gone before….but using it as a springboard to something even more valuable. 

In October 2015 157 Group principals took a collective decision to review how to stay relevant in our increasingly changing sector. Principals felt the need for the 157 Group - almost a decade after its founding - to define how it will continue to innovate, continue to be responsive. 

We looked at four government policy priorities – growth, productivity, devolution and public finances- and we asked how can a modern 157 Group make a difference in these areas? 

During that process the word that we kept coming back to was collaboration. That we need to collaborate to achieve the economic transformation we know a sustainable, proactive, professional and technical skills sector can provide.

As a result of that review, principals felt the need for a shift ….for the 157 Group to continue to lead we must become more outward facing, more in tune with our place within the wider economy. Working with business and with government, the skills sector is one corner of a three-legged stool that supports the productive capacity of this country. 

Principals also realised that to get our offering right….so that it has the greatest impact on our nationwide skills gap, on our productivity gap, and on our economy ….we must collaborate. 

Using collaboration as our mantra we have moved forward over the past year making significant inroads with business and government. You only need look around the room to see examples of the partnerships we are building as well as the incredible achievements of our members. 

Working with local and national employers, and using key government priority areas, they are transforming the FE sector, they are transforming industries, they are transforming the lives of their learners, and they are transforming the economy.  

With Emsi we will shortly be publishing an Economic and Employability Impact report of our member colleges, the first aggregate study of its kind, and the results show the strength of our colleges. 

For every £1 spent at one of our colleges, society receives £4.50 in return, that’s an average annual rate of return of over 19%. 

Pretty impressive I think you’ll agree, but what really impresses me are the next set of figures. 

Many of our learners stay in the UK and their enhanced skills and abilities bolster the output of local employers, leading to higher regional income and a more robust economy. 

The accumulated impact of former learners who are currently employed in the regional workforce amounts to nearly £25 billion in added income to Great Britain's economy each year. I’m going to say that again: £25 billion in added income. 

But it’s even better than that, because altogether, the economic impact of our members to the local business community in Great Britain is £26 billion each year. £26 Billion is around 1.6% of the total economic output of the entire country in 2014-15.  

These are big numbers, our colleges should be commended and our impact is indisputable.

But we want to do more and we can do more. 

From today we will be Collab Group, putting collaboration at the very heart of our mission. Never losing sight of what has gone before, but steadfastly focused on the future. A future where our economic growth isn’t hindered by skills gaps….where each learner is given the greatest opportunity to succeed….and where the FE sector is so entwined with the needs of government and business that it is a commercial and self-sustaining vehicle for social change and economic improvement  for both local communities and for this country. 

Going Forward, Collab Group are concentrating on key sectors and priority areas so we can better understand the needs of industry and industry can better understand the unparalleled impact FE can make. These sectors: Construction, Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing, Digital and Technology, Creative Industries, Professional and Financial Services, Health and Hospitality- form the backbone of the UK economy. They are areas of huge opportunity in terms of productive capacity and the prospect for growth, but they are also areas where we are seeing an ever expanding skills gap. We want to change that. We want to capitalise on the opportunities these sectors present and our colleges have the skill and commitment to do so. 

Collab Group will continue its work influencing government policy, with an emphasis on shaping implementation of those policies and offering real solutions that will jointly benefit the sector and the economy. 

We are working actively with government on solutions to deliver Institutes of Technology.  
We are continuing our work shaping the structure of a new sector insolvency regime. 

We are undertaking research into the most effective models to successfully deliver the Sainsbury Review recommendations. 

We are working with the CBI on the right answer to apprenticeship pricing bands.  

And we are supporting devolved administrations around solutions to their skills agendas.

Our members bring an unmatched expertise to the issues facing the skills sector and through collaboration with government we can advance meaningful and positive answers.

We want business, we want government and we want the skills sector to know that we are ready and able to work together.

Only by working together can we achieve real change, can we impact the lives of learners.

Together we can strengthen the economy.

Collab Group: 
All of us and all of you here ...Together Today for the Skills of Tomorrow. 

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