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Andrea Murphy, LSIF Project Manager discusses FE and the impact of the LSIF

Written on 26th March 2024

Andrea Murphy, GMColleges LSIF Project Manager discusses the Further Education sector and the impact of the Local Skills Improvement Fund.

Having been in education for many decades, it is clear to see the sector has come a long way in its efforts to embrace technological change.  Gone are the days of dragging a trolley of paperwork from one classroom to the other, only to find your overhead projector had been stolen and your acetates were rendered redundant.

The FE sector has always led the charge to automate and upskill the next generation, working closely with employers and other stakeholders to provide an agile curriculum suited to the needs of an emerging economy.  In Greater Manchester, this is in our DNA; as the world’s first industrial city and with the worker bee as our symbol, it is no surprise that the city’s FE Colleges have banded together to offer a comprehensive response to the Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP).

As trailblazers of devolution, we were the first English city region to have an elected metro-mayor in 2015.  Consequently, Greater Manchester Combined Authority has driven growth through a more devolved adult skills system and greater oversight of post-16 technical education and careers.  Championing technical and vocational education is always music to the FE sector’s ears, and certainly the proposed MBacc would better prepare young people for the careers of the future. 

Greater Manchester’s FE sector has worked in collaboration for over a decade and were ideally positioned to place a bid to secure Local Skills Improvement Funding. It was no shock given the current economic climate that key sector areas such as Health and Social Care, Construction, Engineering and Manufacturing were identified as priority areas within the region.  As successful recipients of £8.4m the colleges swung into action to devise a plan that would be both radical and sustainable. 

As with any capital bid, colleges have used this opportunity to invest in equipment that will both upskill the workforce and prepare young people to be uniquely placed to enter a radically changed job market.  From ground-source and air-source heat pumps now populating our plumbing workshops, to EV rigs and charging points transforming motor vehicle workshops, we are taking the much-needed steps to meet the needs of an increasingly green construction industry.  Alongside the development of a suite of level 3, 4 and 5 courses in retrofit and sustainability, we are now in a strong position to provide the upskilling opportunities desperately needed.

Never has the juxtaposition between the old and the new been seen more starkly than with the influx of Anatomage tables into Greater Manchester colleges.  For those of us old enough to have been scarred by the memories of the years’ old, formaldehyde-soaked rat being dragged out of the technician’s storeroom for the annual dissection lesson, we could scarcely have imagined the day! These 3D, high resolution tables are the only ones in the world that show real, segmented, human and animal anatomy in a life-sized format. In fact, Anatomage have reliably informed us that currently we have the largest concentration of Anatomage tables in Greater Manchester than anywhere else in the UK, another first for the region.

It is the increasing digitalisation of all industries that provides our biggest challenge, however. LSIP funding though means that all colleges in Greater Manchester will have at least one, high-tech immersive learning space. But this is only the start of the journey, as college’s grapple with virtual learning and the benefits and pitfalls of AI.   And here is where we believe we are doing something truly collaborative, a word that often strikes fear within a sector often pitched into competition.  Colleagues from across the region have engaged in a series of action research sets to look at some of the biggest challenges facing workforce development within the FE sector and our region in particular; namely involving employers in planning the curriculum, the use of AI , workforce recruitment and retention and preparing an employer endorsed work-ready skills package to complement the MBacc.

So, the worker bees of Greater Manchester’s FE sector continue with their dance, all of us focused on our individual tasks, whilst coordinating with each other for the greater good.  Cottonopolis was the moniker given to the city during the industrial revolution, today a proliferation of skyscrapers dominating the landscape to the joy of some and horror of others.  What is inevitable is progress will march on and Greater Manchester Colleges will be ready to meet its challenges.