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Building Our Industrial Strategy- FE can lead the way

Ruth Gilbert, CEO of the Career Colleges Trust
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It is a time of real change for the UK, the US and indeed the world.

The Government is responding to this change, setting out its vision for post-Brexit Britain in its latest Green Paper – Building Our Industrial Strategy – and is inviting people throughout the country to contribute their thoughts and views.

The consultative approach being taken is encouraging. I am also pleased to see that many of the proposals put forward in the paper have a real resonance with the ethos, values and concept of the Career Colleges Trust.

Firstly, one of the ‘10 Pillars’ identified in the paper as being important to drive industrial strategy is Developing Skills. Within this, the Government outlines its approach to economic growth and to ensuring that individuals and businesses can thrive in the changing, modern economy.

A key element of Developing Skills is the focus on employer-led vocational education to meet employer and economic skills shortages. The Green Paper makes clear that employer involvement is fundamental to driving up standards – which is something I absolutely agree with.

Employer-led curriculums are key to the Career Colleges concept. Since 2013, we have been working with educators and employers to implement work-centric programmes of study, preparing young people for careers in exciting and expanding industries.

Our model advocates using industry experts to deliver pioneering technical education – alongside high quality teaching in core academic subjects.  This ensures that our students will be prepared for the world of work and understand the requirements and expectations of an employer.

Digital Literacy is also a key theme in the Industrial Strategy. Over the next two decades a huge 90% of jobs will require some digital proficiency, yet 10 million UK adults (23%) lack basic digital skills. Indeed, a recent OECD Adult Skills survey reported that 75% of 16-65 year olds have digital literacy skills below Level 2 – so arguably we are not in a good place.

Equipping young people with good digital skills is another important focus in our Career Colleges. The Trust has recently been commissioned by the ETF to develop four online CPD training courses for teachers – to ensure that they are equipped with the digital skills they need to be able to teach their students and use technology effectively in the classroom.

The Government is absolutely right to identify digital skills as key to industrial growth. We strongly support its commitment to providing publicly-funded digital skills training to adults in the country who need it.

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There are many other positive proposals put forward in the paper. Developing a tighter system of technical education for example, with a smaller number of high quality pathways makes sense. For vocational pathways to be held in higher esteem, and to have parity with academic routes, we must ensure that qualifications are recognisable and of a high standard. We also need to involve industry specialists in the design of these pathways to ensure they meet the needs of employers and their businesses.

A well-publicised part of the paper focuses on the £170m commitment for the creation of new Institutes of Technology. This is a welcomed proposal – but the new organisations must be made accessible to all if they are to have the desired impact.

This issue of accessibility is a real concern.  I note that the reference within the Green Paper to the new institutes is in relation only to schools and universities – and not colleges. This for me is a real anomaly, when you consider the fact that it’s colleges who provide the majority of technical education in this country; single-handedly addressing the many skills shortages being faced by many industries. Colleges simply must be part of any strategy to refine and develop high quality technical pathways.

I do however welcome the move towards a UCAS-style system for technical education, to provide parity with academic routes and increased options for career-led higher technical education. With rising university fees and living costs, more and more young people are choosing to earn while they learn and of course, the focus on apprenticeships has never been so great.

Simplifying processes is also a positive suggestion, to make it easier for young people, their parents and indeed employers to understand the opportunities on offer.

The new institutes must capitalise on the excellent technical education and employer engagement programmes that are already in operation, rather the re-inventing the wheel. Indeed, using the already successful national network of our Career Colleges as a lever would certainly be key to fast track development.

The proposals put forward to further encourage the uptake of STEM subject to help meet demand across these industries is also vital. The Career Colleges Trust is already providing employer-designed pathways to careers in engineering, digital technology, healthcare and a wide range of STEM-linked professional services. With employer backing from leading businesses including Accenture, Ford, Siemens, NHS Trusts, Amazon and many more – it is clear that support from industry is forthcoming but this needs to be nurtured and developed further.

I am hugely encouraged that the Government is inviting people throughout the UK to contribute to its proposals – reflecting that we all need to be part of such big change and reform.

We do indeed need to create ‘a high-skilled economy that works for everyone’ and I very much hope that the pioneering industry-led work being done by our Career Colleges network and indeed, much of the FE sector as a whole, will help lead the way.

Ruth Gilbert, CEO of the Career Colleges Trust

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