UK: Why Governance Professionals Should Give Something Back

Last Updated: 31 August 2017
Article by Alister Bould

A further education governance role is an opportunity for personal development and making a difference to the community.

There is a significant moment in many people's careers that goes unremarked even though it is worth celebrating. It is the moment when you feel confident in the job you are doing, not because there are no challenges, but because you know that you have the experience and the skills required to face those challenges.

That moment often coincides with a feeling of wanting to give something back, or perhaps an urge to use and develop the skills that you have acquired in a different context. It may not be immediately obvious what you can do to address that feeling, but there is an effective way: volunteer your time and transfer your skills.

Finding an opportunity

Having decided that you want to volunteer, the next challenge is finding an opportunity that allows you to use your skillset.

Delivered by Education and Employers, 'Inspiring FE Governance' was recently established to find business volunteers with the relevant skills to serve as governance board members for further education (FE) providers in England.

In other parts of the UK, those interested can approach FE providers directly. FE governance roles are akin to non-executive director roles in function and responsibility, given the size of many FE providers in terms of employee numbers and budgetary responsibility. Although the role is unpaid, the professional and personal benefits are significant.

Governing education

Further education is an increasingly significant part of the industry in this country.

FE providers are responsible for high-quality academic and vocational education, including apprenticeship training, for more than three million young people and adults. They work closely with employers to develop a workforce with the skills needed in their region.

By closing the skills gap, they boost employment and strengthen the economy.

"Good governance is critical to FE providers as they undertake this vital role while navigating rapidly changing regulation"

There are more than 300 FE colleges in England. They are mainly large institutions with budgets ranging from £10 million to more than £80 million, and student numbers from 2,000 to more than 20,000. Many colleges have recently undertaken mergers or are considering doing so.

Good governance is critical to FE providers as they undertake this vital role while navigating rapidly changing regulation. A successful FE provider is reflected in the success of its students.

There is an acknowledgement of the importance of good governance which is reflected in a central drive to increase the spread and level of skills found on FE provider governing boards. There is also a growing recognition of the importance of increasing the diversity of the membership of governing bodies.

Piers White is a board member of Croydon College, having held numerous chair and non-executive director roles during his career.

He explains: 'I had previously been a school governor and I was involved in the economic regeneration of Croydon. I wanted to use my skills and interest in education to put something back. My background has given me a good understanding of how to strike the right balance between challenge and support. In turn I seek to help others use their experience to do the same.'

Two-way transfer

The governing board of an FE provider operates in a similar way to the board of a company. It decides upon the strategic direction of the college or provider and it appoints senior post holders who are responsible for the day-to-day running of the organisation.

The board is responsible for holding the senior management to account. It also has a role to play in ensuring the financial stability of the organisation and the safeguarding of public funds and assets.

Many FE providers would love the opportunity to work with governance professionals in order to benefit from the wisdom that such highly-qualified people have acquired over the years. Transferable skills are called that for a reason, and it is great to be able to put them to the test.

The beauty is that the transfer works in both directions, so skills that you develop and hone while volunteering can be brought back into the workplace. The organisation for which you are volunteering gets the benefit of your skills and experience, and you get the chance to undertake valuable personal development.

"Even a reluctant employer may change their mind about allowing staff to volunteer once they realise it has a positive impact on the bottom line"

If you work for an enlightened organisation, your employer will even encourage you to undertake voluntary work because of the benefits volunteering brings to the business.

Various reports by the CIPD, Business in the Community, and the City of London Corporation show that employees who are supported by their employers to volunteer are more motivated and more loyal. This results in a measurable impact on recruitment and retention.

Employers also reap the benefit of having a workforce that can bring their new-found and highly-developed skills and put them to use in the working environment. Even a reluctant employer may change their mind about allowing staff to volunteer once they realise it has a positive impact on the bottom line.

Return on social investment

By serving in a governance role on an FE board you can make a difference to the life chances of young people and adults in your community. In addition, you will be playing your part in ensuring that your region has a skilled, well-trained workforce, which in turn has a positive impact on the economy.

People who are interested in this opportunity can register at Inspiring FE Governance where they will be matched with FE providers who are recruiting board members in their area.

It is also worth considering if there are others in your organisation that would be suited to an FE governance role. Volunteering may provide exactly the personal development opportunity that is required for an inexperienced board member or someone being lined up for promotion to the board.

Often this kind of opportunity is not available internally.

It is said that variety is the spice of life. If so, then becoming a volunteer helps to prove that theory. Doing something different to the 'day job' will almost certainly provide you with a fresh perspective on your current role and tackling a new challenge may even give you a renewed sense of purpose.

More information

Inspiring FE Governance is commissioned and funded by the Education and Training Foundation, and delivered by Education and Employers. Education and Employers is a national charity that builds links between employers and schools and colleges.

It runs the Inspiring the Future initiative, which connects skilled volunteers with schools and colleges using the latest online technology, and Inspiring Governance, which recruits business volunteers to serve as school governors.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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