Leaders in awarding and skills organisations have found themselves at a crossroads. The potential change in government after the upcoming election introduces even more uncertainty. And uncertain times make navigating potential career moves that much harder.

As experts in the awarding and skills recruitment space, we want to demystify some of the reasons that people are reluctant to take on new roles, offer advice to leaders contemplating their next more, and provide guidance to organisations in these times.

We spoke to Casey Bullen, Head of Talent at Learning Curve Group, who has shared some of her insights and top tips for both professionals looking for new opportunities and organisations searching for talented and ambitious leaders in the education sector.

The political climate and its impact

Change in government can bring about substantial shifts in policies, funding, and regulatory frameworks affecting the education and skills sector.

These changes can disrupt strategic plans, alter operational priorities, and require rapid adaptation to new guidelines.

Strategic and operational changes can be challenging at the best of times. Changing roles during stable times already requires a huge investment in energy and learning. Add the two factors together and it becomes clear why role change is less appealing.

Moving roles in a politically volatile period is a risk to one’s reputation. Successful leaders will have established influence and understanding of existing frameworks and relationships, and there is a greater chance of success in a new role if you’re familiar with the landscape in which you’re operating.

For organisations, losing a leader at this time can derail long-term strategic projects. They may increase benefits or remuneration packages to ensure people stay in their roles to ensure successful outcomes.

Casey Bullen, Head of Talent at Learning Curve Group, adds:

“At Learning Curve Group, we have felt the impact of uncertainty in the FE sector. We’ve all seen large-scale redundancies in the last few years, which has made some individuals nervous about making their next move. We particularly find it challenging to attract individuals from colleges where there is a view they are more secure. This has impacted the number of applications we get to all roles, not just leadership, and has completely changed the way we ‘do recruitment’.”

Advice for leaders contemplating a move

Despite the uncertainties, there are strategies leaders can adopt to navigate career moves thoughtfully and effectively.

Do your research.

Understand the potential implications of a government change on the sector, including how previous changes have impacted awarding and skills organisations. This will help assess the risk and prepare for potential shifts in policy and funding.

Evaluate the organisational resilience of prospective employers. Look for signs of strong leadership, adaptability, and robust contingency plans and a track record of navigating change successfully.

Build a strong network.

Strengthen professional networks within the sector. Engage with peers, attend industry events, and participate in forums. A strong network can provide support, insights, and opportunities that can be invaluable during times of change.

A wide network can also open the door to interim roles or consultancy positions, which can provide new experiences and opportunities without a long-term commitment.

Stay informed and flexible.

Keep abreast of political developments and be prepared to adapt your career plans accordingly. Flexibility and responsiveness to change can turn potential challenges into opportunities. Consider what skills you could benefit from refining, such as adaptability and crisis management. Not only will these skills help your employability, but they will increase your confidence in navigating uncertainty, now and in the future.

Insight from Casey Bullen on successful transitions:

“For leaders contemplating a move, my biggest piece of advice is to be candid about any concerns and not be afraid to ask the important questions early in the process. Our recruitment processes are known for being brutally honest about the challenges you’ll face, which we achieve by holding focus groups with key stakeholders as part of the interview process.

“We have had some incredible succession stories in our leadership team. Over the last three years, we have seen some highly talented leaders join the Purple Army. I wouldn’t say there has been a secret sauce to their success, but I certainly think the resilience they have built in the sector has enabled them to go on and achieve amazing things here at LCG. Our Chief Operating Officer, Emma Barrett-Peel, is an example of this success. She was hired as Director of Apprenticeships and promoted a short while later to her current role.”

Advice for organisations looking to attract new leaders

Organisations looking to attract new leaders during uncertain times need to be upfront in addressing inherent concerns while focusing on the opportunities that you can present new recruits.

Communicate stability and resilience.

Articulate your organisation’s vision and plans to navigate potential political changes, or show how you have successfully managed previous political or economic changes. Highlight your strategic priorities and long-term goals to reassure prospective employees that you have a clear vision while giving them a clear understanding of how they can make an impact. Stability and flexibility must work hand in hand. Communicate how you value innovation, flexibility and openness to new ideas and ways of working to instil confidence in potential leaders about the organisation’s ability to handle uncertainties. This is a great way to show how your values may align with their personal values.

Offer competitive packages and development opportunities.

Enhance your offer with competitive compensation packages, including benefits that emphasise security and stability. Salary surveys are a particularly effective tool to understand where you sit in your sector. Emphasise opportunities for professional growth and development and highlight how leaders can expand their skills and experience.

Since Covid-19, more and more employees are demanding flexibility. If you’ve slipped back into “business as usual”, it might be time to reassess your offer.

Your onboarding process can also be key in showcasing a culture of stability. Ensure that you offer a supportive structure, including mentoring programmes, and resources for managing change, and communicate this in any advertising you do for the role.

Insight from Casey Bullen on recruitment strategies:

“Given the current climate within FE and the job market in general, candidates aren’t applying for jobs in their masses, and this is even more so at leadership level. You’ve got to go out there and get them. We have completely moved away from using traditional job boards, and currently over 60% of all roles filled at LCG are done so via headhunting, referrals, or linked to a specific social media campaign. This figure increases to over 90% with our leadership roles. I do recognise that not every provider or even college is in the fortunate position of having a Talent Team or the resources to do this. This is where finding a good agency partner, like Peridot Partners is key to help you identify your markets and do the heavy lifting for you.

“Secondly, values-based recruitment. Don’t rely on years of experience or qualifications when making recruitment decisions. Look at your values and culture and see how candidates will align and add to it positively. I think that’s always been our key to hiring amazing leaders.”

For organisations, attracting new leaders during this period involves clear communication of stability, showcasing resilience, offering competitive packages, promoting development opportunities, providing robust support, and highlighting flexibility. Embracing change as an opportunity rather than a threat can lead to career growth and resilience, even in the face of political upheaval.

Casey concludes

“In FE, challenging times can also be periods of huge opportunity. I would encourage leaders to balance this with the risk of moving roles and equally the risks of becoming stagnant. The opportunities a move can provide for career and skill growth can be hugely rewarding. For employers making their next appointment, the adaptability and resilience of candidates should be explored throughout your processes.”

Katy Lennon is the Acting Head of Awarding and Skills at Peridot. Combining her skills and passion for apprenticeships, she strives to seek high-quality leadership for leading training providers nationwide.

Connect with Katy on LinkedIn or email her at katy@peridotpartners.co.uk.