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Skills, Innovation, and Productivity – The role of Further Education Colleges in Local and Regional Ecosystems

This report presents the findings of a study aimed at exploring the role of further education colleges (FECs) in fostering innovation and productivity in their local and regional ecosystems in England. Previous work by the authors highlighted a gap in understanding of how FECs function within their ecosystems and how partnerships and collaboration can enhance their contributions. The report builds on the hypothesis that the lack of sustained interaction between FECs, business, and government on demand and supply of skills, and the failure to embed the assessment of skills needs and solutions in a regional/local context, are important reasons for the underperformance of places in terms of innovation and productivity.

Sixteen institutions in England took part in the research to help understand how FECs perceive their roles in their local and regional ecosystems, how they assess and respond to employer needs, and the drivers of their engagement within their ecosystems.

The research found FECs sustain numerous relationships with employers and stakeholders in their areas through a wide variety of mechanisms. Their reasons for engagement are nuanced and varied, but all serve the FECs’ core strategic objectives to deliver skills, improve the prospects of their students, and contribute to the growth of their communities. However, FECs continue to struggle to meet skills demand, and the report concludes that filling skills gaps and catalysing innovation in ecosystems would benefit from an approach that recognises Further Education as part of a system that is also shaped by institutional, policy, and market forces beyond their control.

The study highlights the need for deeper local and regional collaboration by FECs with employers and other education institutions, including Higher Education institutions, to strengthen the connection between innovation at the regional level and the skills required flowing from it. The report concludes with a series of reflections and recommendations that present options for intervention and topics for future study. The research specifically adopts the lens of the colleges, and expanding the study to include the perspectives of other stakeholders across the ecosystem, particularly employers, would provide a clearer picture of the role of FECs in their ecosystems.

Authors Jen Nelles (Innovation Caucus, Oxford Brookes University), Ben Verinder (Chalkstream), Kevin Walsh (Innovation Caucus, Oxford Brookes University), Tim Vorley (Innovation Caucus, Oxford Brookes University)


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J. Nelles, B. Verinder, K. Walsh, T. Vorley (2023) Skills Innovation and Productivity: The Role of Further Education Colleges in Local and Regional Ecosystems, The Productivity Institute and Innovation Caucus.