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Improving how you support and retain skills coaches

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Recruitment in the UK is currently extremely tough. In service industries such as Skills and Employability, the reality of struggling to find and retain talent to deliver high-quality programmes can be crippling. In this article, we take a look at how some of the leading providers are tackling this skills coach shortage, and remind ourselves of some common, yet relevant, recruitment best practices. 

The state of the recruitment market 

According to the ONS, “the number of job vacancies in March to May 2022 rose to a new record of 1,300,000. However, the rate of growth in vacancies continued to slow down.” In 2022, 90% of employers in the UK are recruiting (up from 66% in 2021), 86% are struggling to fill job openings, and a huge 63% are failing to hire due to skills shortages. This is despite 76% of those employers offering hybrid and remote positions to fit candidates’ new expectations of an improved work-life balance, largely influenced by the impact of the pandemic. It appears that flexibility is not enough to attract and retain skilled employees.  

These alarming figures are reflected in the further education industry. Opening her speech at the AELP National Conference, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman warned, “The FE staffing crisis is drawing leaders’ attention away from ensuring that quality education is delivered.” Reflecting on the speech, FE Week reported, “Both colleges and independent training providers recently told FE Week how soaring inflation and the cost-of-living crisis is forcing their staff to leave the profession in favour of better-paid jobs.” They continued, “FE providers are also making parts of their workforce redundant in an effort to balance the books as funding rates continue at a level that does not reflect the true cost of delivery.”  

As increasing numbers of training providers seek investment and funding from private equity firms and venture capitalists, they’re under pressure to cut costs and demonstrate return on investment against every pound they’re spending. Learner completion rates, which are inextricably linked to the recruitment and retainment of expert skills coaches, are important figures used to demonstrate success to funders 

Which recruitment and retention approaches work in FE?  

A look at how leading companies and ITPs position themselves to recruits reveals some clear trends and themes.  

In recent years, company culture has risen to the fore as a means to attract ambitious employees. Many businesses emphasise the fun employees have and their open, relaxed and informal office atmosphere. It’s easy to get distracted by these dominant narratives coming from major recruiters and successful companies. However, a key learning for recruitment success is to target the demographic you’re seeking to hire. While, generally speaking, so-called Ping pong culture is aimed at graduate recruits, it’s about offering a range of appealing and inclusive shared experiences. Know your audience when building the culture, and don’t be afraid to offer something a little different according to the demographic and life situation of your people.  

For learning coaches, personal learning and development is often an essential part of being successful in their job. In further education, successful recruiters recognise this and appeal to this desire for continued personal growth at work by offering access to a team of expert peers and high quality clients. Positioning roles as working alongside behavioural scientists, analytics experts, and education academics amongst others, is an effective way of attracting the best learning coaches. What’s more, a keen desire to learn is a key attribute to look for in employees. Organisations such as WorldSkills UK Centre of Excellence are recognising the appeal to providers and their employer clients, to ‘use international best practice to raise standards in apprenticeships and technical education so more young people and employers succeed.’ Such accreditations are no doubt designed to also attract and retain delivery staff.  

Similarly, the opportunity to work with some of the most exciting, innovative, important, and recognisable clients is a key way to attract employees. We see this in countless job adverts for coaching and tutoring roles. Within the training and apprenticeships space, providers can take this one step further by demonstrating the impact of the work their coaches do within these employer organisations. The impact of a vocational programme on an individual’s career and life opportunities, their long-awaited promotion, or the impact from the employer’s perspective on new in-house capabilities and their own staff retention successes. 

Learning coaches will also be keen to work in an environment where they have the best tools and resources available to them. As a technology provider that welcomes new users to our product every month, Aptem is all too aware of the challenges facing skills coaches and tutors – who are often working to demanding caseloads, in a highly regulated environment. The technology that you choose really matters, and can have a huge impact on the day-to-day experience of your people. Frustrations around manual administrative tasks, fraught with the inevitable risk of human error chip away at employee engagement. Highly efficient, fit-for-purpose and user-friendly systems allow your coaches to focusing on what they do best and enjoy the most: teaching. The systems need to be flexible, in order to allow for individualised learning journeys and a curriculum that can be shaped around unique learner needs.  

Company values are also a key recruitment tool. Myriad articles attest to the proven results generated by values-based recruitment. Clearly expressing the aims of the organisation and values of its people, such as contributing to the learning and development of others, will attract learning coaches who are committed to their students and to their work. Of course, it’s important to evidence that these values are embedded in the culture and not simply paying lip service to what potential employees want to hear. A growing number of leading providers are prioritising this – from investing time and effort in CIPD ’employee experience’ awards to inspiring workplace accolades. The market is close-knit, with coaches and tutors moving from organisation to organisation, and providers need to work hard to demonstrate their Employee Value Proposition. 

What can we learn from HR practices across business?  

Looking more broadly at human resources practices beyond our sector, the following elements appear time and again. Many are common sense, but when brought together provide a roadmap to follow to create appealing, successful, job descriptions.  

The impact of salary and benefits on the decision of who to work for cannot be ignored. Especially in an environment where so many competing companies are recruiting for the same roles simultaneously. Salaries need to be competitive, and to that end it is worth reading job descriptions issued by competitors to discover what recruits might expect. Benefits should be both competitive and tailored. Consider the priorities that learning coaches may have when seeking a new position and identify particular benefits which could appeal to and attract the right candidates. Opportunities for additional learning, for example. 

Other, more standard benefits should not be forgotten – a decent number of holiday days, a good pension offering, possibly healthcare, a company car or a bike scheme, are all valuable extras to include as standard. And while we saw before that flexibility in terms of location and hours is not enough to attract and retain the best employees, job offers without this included will largely be ignored. It’s now an expected benefit.  

As well as company reputation, financial benefits and time commitment, recruits will scrutinise job descriptions. Ensuring that targets are fair and realistic, and recognise the division between goals that are achievable and within the power of the learning coach, and those that are outside of their control, can instil confidence in recruits that they will find themselves in a supportive working environment. One that understands the challenges inherent in the role. Feedback should also be mentioned, given how powerful this can be in enabling learning coaches to develop their approaches and improve their results.  

Putting best practice into practice 

There’s a lot to consider when writing job descriptions and advertising roles. Recruitment is a form of marketing, and recruiters can learn a lot from marketer’s approach to reaching desired audiences. Personalisation is a key tactic. Making sure you have the ideal recruit in mind and understand their priorities, goals and values, will help you to reach the right people. Having vocal brand advocates present in recruitment drives or including quotes from employees on your website, social media and other materials, will reassure interested recruits that they are on to a good thing. And ensuring values are carried through in delivery will make sure you keep hold of your new employees. 

Staff members are internal customers. Ensuring they continue to have a good experience will build trust and loyalty, ultimately helping you to retain your best staff and the great results they bring.   

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