New study investigates destinations of college leavers

Students

A new report on the destinations of leavers from further education (FE) in Greater Manchester produced by New Economy reveals that hairdressing students fare best in terms of job outcomes compared to the other subject areas covered in the survey, motor mechanics and digital and creative. 

However, New Economy warns in the report against an over-reliance on destination tracking as a means of measuring the effectiveness of FE, citing inconsistency in the way that destination data is gathered, that the state of local labour markets affects job prospects, and that many people change direction while at college.

The survey drew responses from 500 former students. The learners were surveyed between 12 and 17 months after finishing their course in the summer and autumn of 2013. The survey did not include learners who returned to the same institution to carry on their studies.

Hair and beauty learners had the best employment outcomes out of the three subject areas studied – in part because substantial numbers were in work prior to undertaking the learning. Some 46% of former learners in this area went into permanent work or self-employment with hardly any entering casual work, compared with 43% for motor mechanics and 24% for digital and creative learners.

Motor mechanics were the group which had the highest unemployment rate at 33%. Overall, 33% of the leavers went on to do further learning, 30% went into employment and 26% were unemployed at the time they were surveyed.

But the report concluded that in terms of finding work, the most significant factor was whether the students had worked before their studies; one of the reasons former hairdressing learners found it easier to enter work was that many had work before undertaking the learning. Meanwhile, those who were NEET (not in education, employment or training) before the learning were most likely to struggle to enter work after the learning.

Any type of work, whether it be permanent, casual, self-employment, voluntary or even work experience, significantly increased learners’ chances of moving into work after learning. The report argues that this finding points to the need for more work experience, stronger links between employers and colleges and better careers advice.

Stephen Overell, principal for employment and skills at New Economy, said: “Some policymakers argue that further education colleges should be judged on whether they get people into work. Our report cautions how difficult this aim is likely to be in practice. Colleges are multi-purpose institutions and people pursue many different learning and career trajectories while at them. Destination tracking certainly generates useful information about what happens to learners, but as this report suggests, there are doubts about the extent to which destination information provides helpful insight into the quality of learning. Many factors influence the ultimate destinations of learners, including their history before learning, the level of the course they study, and the state of the local labour market. It is clear that work experience can play an important part in preparing young people for work and helping to clarify their career goals.

“Policy makers also need to recognise that many learners undertake learning for non-economic reasons. 65% of those surveyed stated ‘general interest’ as the reason they chose their course against 22% who said they hoped to improve their job prospects.

“What is clear is that there is a need for a collective and consistent destination tracking system to enable meaningful comparisons to be made between subject areas and between institutions. Careers guidance at 16-18 and beyond also needs to be improved and it should be informed by robust destinations information.”

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