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With most specialised purchasing decisions, choosing the right supplier is usually a critical factor in success. Choosing a training provider to work with is no different. So what factors should be considered when making your choice?

What do you already know? 

We all have different experiences so it would not be overly surprising to find that some employers already know quite a lot about in-work training and some know nothing at all. 

For some it might not even occur that a business problem might have a training solution. If the idea of training is quite new to you, then you should look for a provider that can help you work your way through the skills system whilst keeping a sharp focus on the business problem that you are seeking to address. If you know exactly what you need, then head straight for a specialist.

Just the one problem? 

In all my years of working with employers, it was very rare to find an employer with only one problem to overcome. My job as a college provider was not to make profit but to develop supportive relationships with businesses in my ‘patch’, to help them be successful in whatever way I could. 

Colleges deliver a wide variety of education and training, aimed at individuals and businesses. This gives a local business access to far more resource than they might think. Colleges run business clubs and provide free advice, they provide class and workshop based vocational training and so can provide even a small business with access to a talent pipeline, they will deliver employment programmes that allow employers to try out prospective employees before committing, they have access to most types of government funding and they understand how they all work so they can help you find the right training at the lowest possible cost to you.

They will help with the paperwork if you need it, they will talk through the delivery process, they will provide your employee with support around their training to ensure that both you and the employee have a positive experience. Once that bit of training is successfully complete, it is very likely that you and the college will identify other ways in which the college can help you develop your business.

Colleges run business clubs and provide free advice, they provide class and workshop based vocational training and so can provide even a small business with access to a talent pipeline.

Colleges look for the ‘right’ employers, just like you look for the ‘right’ provider

Colleges seek out employers that they can work with over time and can support across the full range of the business. Obviously, they cannot run programmes at a loss, but the driving motivation is not profit. Colleges are a strategic partner in the local business support infrastructure, they work with local and national government to ensure that they are well placed to fulfil this role. 

They want to work with employers who recognise their own role in the local economy, who are seeking to grow and develop within that community. Colleges will generally walk away from employers who see training as an income stream. Colleges are also looking for things from the employers they work with – a commitment to supporting progression in work and access to work opportunity. 

Colleges support more 16 – 18 years olds in learning than all school sixth forms combined, and a lot of these young people are on vocational courses rather than academic ones. Colleges want to prepare these young people for their move into work, they want them to have the right skills and attitudes and the only way to do this effectively is to work with employers to understand what is needed, to provide opportunities to gain a bit of work experience and then to give these young people their first job, ideally with continued access to training.

Things don’t always go right when it comes to relationships

This, however, is not because a college doesn’t want to do it right! Colleges will always be happy to listen to employers and adapt their delivery – you just have to pick up the phone. 

Some of the most effective college/employer relationships I have seen have started out from a negative. Both sides have to invest in getting it right. If this is what you want from your investment in training, then talk to the Business Development team in an FE college near you.

Teresa Frith is the Senior Skills Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges that is the national voice for further education, sixth form, tertiary and specialist colleges in England. Members make up almost 95% of the sector - transforming 2.2 million lives each year.