2022/23 UK further education professional services staff digital experience insights survey findings
The digital experience insights survey for professional services staff took place between October 2022 and June 2023. Participating FE colleges and sixth form colleges were able to select their own survey period within these dates, typically a three to four week window.
There were 1,213 respondents from 16 organisations. 15 of these were based in England and one in Scotland. These 16 organisations represent 6% of all further education providers in the UK. A separate analysis of the digital experience of professional services staff in colleges in Wales was conducted in 2022/23.
The highest number of responses from a single organisation was 161 staff (25% of their total professional services staff population) and the mean number of responses was 76 per organisation (on average 30% of the total number of professional services staff in each organisation that participated). However, six of the 16 organisations contributed fewer than 50 responses.
A survey indicating the digital experience of higher education professional services staff was run simultaneously and results can be found in our 2022/23 HE professional services staff insights report.
Through Jisc’s digital experience insights service, organisations can gain valuable data to inform strategic, operational and digital investment decisions, evidence year-on-year improvements and demonstrate return on investment. Organisations that take part have access to their own data to assess their unique situations as well as benchmarking data. Full information about the digital experience insights surveys is detailed on our information page.
16 organisations participated in this year’s Digital experience insights survey for professional services staff in further education. Over 1,200 respondents told us about their experiences of using digital technologies as part of their job roles.
FE professional services staff are generally satisfied with their online working environment, and they took advantage of the range of opportunities presented by the tools that enabled online and remote working. This afforded efficiencies in working practice, better communication and collaboration with colleagues, other staff and learners, as well as a more flexible work environment. Many of these positive aspects are echoed in our insights survey for FE teaching staff and our insights survey for HE professional services staff.
However, survey participants highlighted a number of areas where improvements could be made by colleges. In particular, professional services staff indicated that they needed more support for technical issues faced when working online, including with the various systems they used, with college networks, and with wifi access and reliability. Staff also dealt with unsuitable working devices, including laptops and peripherals. Many staff indicated that opportunities for training were unavailable in a wide range of key capability areas. Staff also indicated a desire for more role specific training.
With such a varied digital experience among professional services staff, there are clear areas for improvement, as well as areas of success which can be built upon, to deliver a more supportive working environment.
Professional services staff worked mainly on campus but hybrid working is valued
Professional services staff valued the flexibility afforded to them by digital technologies for working in a range of environments, including at home, on campus, and while on visits to external partners. They took advantage of the various features in collaboration and communication tools offered to them by colleges. The vast majority (85%) considered online working to be convenient for them (only 1% disagreed) and allowed them to work in the ways that they preferred (77%). Indeed, almost all staff (98%) worked using technology while on campus, and a majority worked at home (77%). A not significant number also worked in public spaces (14%).
When we looked at the balance between on campus and online working, most (72%) worked mainly on campus, which has increased since last year’s survey (64% in 2021/22). Around a quarter (26%) found themselves split between on campus and online working, while only 2% worked mainly online. However, when we looked at staff preferences for working, they were split between wanting to work mainly on campus (47%) and in a more hybrid way across on campus and online work (45%).
However, online working was not without its problems. Nearly a quarter (23%) had problems with no private areas to work. The qualitative responses to the survey further indicated that many struggled with a lack of space for private meetings, and with technical and digital etiquette issues displayed by their colleagues in both office spaces and during online meetings.
Moreover, a significant percentage of staff (40%) had problems with poor wifi connections, a problem primarily faced by staff on campus, and about a fifth (21%) of staff had no suitable device for working. Device problems included slow laptops, and a lack of access to high quality peripheral devices like docking stations, microphones, additional screens and webcams.
The online working environment was rated relatively highly, but there are problems with systems and networks
Three quarters (75%) of professional services staff considered the quality of the online working environment to be above average (ie best imaginable, excellent or good). Very few (4%) rated their online working environment as below average. However, respondents felt that the help offered in support of communication and access to services was mixed and lacking in some areas. The majority of staff participated in online communication, including around three-quarters (74%) being involved in mixed face-to-face/online meetings, and just under two-thirds (62%) participating in online classes, lectures or workshops. Two-thirds (65%) agreed that they were supported to communicate effectively online (only 6% disagreed).
When we looked at support for college systems and services, we found that just over half (53%) agreed that they were supported to access platforms and services off campus. However, around a third (31%) experienced difficulties with work due to being unable to access the systems they needed either on or off campus. Along the same lines, when asked for their preferences for their college’s future investment in the digital environment, 41% of respondents wanted colleges to upgrade platforms and systems. This was a far more popular choice than the other options available (27% more computers/devices, 17% investment in IT support, 11% specialist course software, 4% digital content).
Professional services staff required more support for online working and skills development
72% rated the support given for working effectively online as above average, a percentage which has declined slightly since last year’s survey (76%). There are improvements to be made here as many staff felt that the support offered to them was not adequate, and may not be equal to the equivalent support offered to teaching staff. Indeed, less than a third (31%) felt that they were involved in decisions about their digital experiences. This included decisions about what devices were considered suitable for online work as well as decisions about software and systems rolled out by the organisation.
In a range of areas, many staff did not agree that they had received support for digital skills development. Less than half (48%) agreed they had guidance about the digital skills needed for their job role. This has remained at about the same level since the 2019/20 survey. In addition, less than a third agreed that they had received an assessment of their digital skills and training needs (31%) or time to explore new digital tools and approaches (28%).
When we looked at data skills and awareness, nearly two-thirds (65%) of staff agreed that they understood how their college collected and used learner data (7% disagreed), while only 3% disagreed that they were comfortable with how their college collected and used learner data. Although understanding outweighed neutral or negative responses here, there are clearly improvements to be made since just under a half (46%) of staff reported not been offered training on keeping data secure.