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Why should business care about free higher education?

Education ends and then the real work begins, or so it can feel when you transfer from student life into full time employment. Once you are in a work environment and become aware of the hiring process from the other side, you will quickly realise how important a strong education sector is to a business’ ability to thrive.

Finding quality graduates for new roles, especially for small business or startups where youth and an innate understanding of the digital environment is key, can be difficult. While the CBI feared the effect of too many graduates and not enough jobs back in 2008, nearly 10 years later, we are dealing with graduates walking into jobs they are both overqualified and underskilled for.

Business in most industries are struggling to find candidates who are driven and dedicated, and not just qualified. With hikes in student fees putting off students from attending university, we could be heading for a reverse, with too many under qualified workers, who would be ideally suited due to their soft skills, not applying for jobs that need to be filled.

Free higher education would ensure that these students are ideally suited to the world of work, but what do we do in the meantime and how will business be affected by current trends?

 

FE hasn’t been supported enough and businesses are already suffering

All businesses rely on having workers skilled enough to do the job at hand, and many of these workers will have needed some kind of training. FE encapsulates two of the main routes to work: apprenticeships and FE college courses. Both have been affected by a lack of funding, leading to a lack of skilled workers even though they’re interested in getting educated in the right skills.

For example, FE colleges support key industries like construction and engineering. It was recently reported that due to a lack of construction workers, and more work than ever before, the construction industry in Wales is unable to meet demands.

 

Grants and bursaries would encourage more FE learners (and FE training)

Skilled and dedicated learners often go back into training in order to develop their skills to better suit the job at hand, which in turn helps to grow the business. Having free access to further education and training offers an incentive for workers to develop their skills. By not going back into education, a business can find that it faces limited growth opportunities, as staff are unable to work on their skills. 

One way the Labour party proposed to get more adults into FE was through grants and bursaries. Adult learners are able to apply for a grant or bursary to help them financially if they need it while in FE, which includes all education past secondary school. However, if the funding isn’t available for FE, then learners may find it more difficult to be granted with financial aid, leaving them unable to go back into education.

This is especially difficult for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and labour-skilled jobs, where there is a shortage of qualified workers in the UK. If there is a lack of funding for workers to develop their skills in FE, companies could find themselves with unqualified staff and job shortages. This can limit how much money a company is making, and a lack of skilled workers can limit the industry as a whole.

 

Inequality reduces diversity, which limits a business’ potential

Free higher education offers everyone the same chance to learn more skills, however a lack of funding could remove the incentive for skilled and dedicated learners to grow in a specific career. Adult learners could benefit from further education if they should choose a career change. This increases diversity within skilled workers, as everyone would come from varying backgrounds. The best companies do well by capitalising on diversity, as it brings new ideas on ways for businesses to grow and develop.

However, a lack of funding could mean that only those who can afford further education get onto these courses which can drive inequality within the workplace up. Adult learners should have the option to further develop existing skills, while also being given the opportunity to learn new skills through free higher education, in order to help a business, and the industry, grow and develop.

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