From education to employment

Maximising Study Programmes to develop learners’ employability skills

Kerry Boffey, Director, Adult Learning Improvement Network

Maximising Study Programmes to develop learners’ employability skills, calculation and communication competencies to equip them with the abilities to succeed in the workplace and in life.

Lord Sainsbury’s Independent Review on Technical Education with a framework of 15 routes to skilled employment recommend that training programmes last for a period of two years. This would start with a core curriculum for a route that all students would study, subsequently followed by specialisation. Students would also complete a high-quality industry work placement, and be expected to attain a minimum standard of English and maths. Young people would therefore leave college with a recognised qualification focused on a specific occupation or a set of occupations, wider employability skills and experience in their chosen field.

The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) have commissioned the Adult Learning Improvement Network (ALIN) to work with colleges and training providers to strengthen the quality of Study Programmes and help learners achieve their learning goals and progress into a positive destination. A major component of this project is to help colleges and training providers manage, plan and deliver high quality work experience for their learners to supplement their academic and/or vocational training. This is placing work experience and preparation for employment at the heart of the study programme, rather than as a reluctant bolt-on task to be completed. The impact of this project work upon learner motivation and progression has been significant and this is evident by the improved engagement and commitment that participating training providers are now experiencing with their learners.

A further aspect to the project is to improve, strengthen and invigorate the learners’ involvement in maths and English, particularly for those young people who have not achieved the required level of a Grade C at GCSE. In some colleges and training providers, those who have not achieved this grade status may be as high as 70% of the learner cohort.

However, maths and English are key skills for work and life and need to be mastered, so there is no escape and these subjects have consequently become an essential, mandatory component of the post 16 curriculum. A dilemma and subsequent challenge has therefore been created. We all know the importance of being able to calculate number and problem solve; it is everywhere and in every part of our life whether in the home, the workplace or our leisure environments. Likewise the ability to communicate whether verbally or in written format and to read and interpret information are vital skills for life and certainly essential in the workplace. The challenge is how we motivate and enthuse young people to not only recognise the importance of these skills but how we can show the relevance to their lives. If we can help them to experience success and enjoy developing these skills, we have a chance. In effect we are intending to convert failure into success, to take learners from a sense of repeatedly losing, into being winners and enjoying the positive experience.

ALIN are working with a number of colleges and training providers to develop resources and teaching strategies to fully embed maths (calculation and problem solving) and English (communication) into vocational training programmes and at the same time where appropriate, map to GCSE requirements. There are two rules that apply – firstly the work in maths and English involves fun and secondly, an acceptance that it is okay to make mistakes ………….. that we subsequently learn from and use as a springboard for further progressive activities.

The early impact of this work is extremely promising with participating colleges and training providers giving excellent feeding back on the quality of training and resources that have been developed. Learners are using the application of number and written and verbal communication skills more confidently in their vocational training environments, such as the young chef who is measuring and calculating proportions and preparation times for meals and designing menus to influence customer preferences, or the trainee hairdresser cutting and styling hair at specific angles and articulately explaining hair care techniques. Both are clearly appreciating the importance of improving their calculation and communication skills in preparation for future employment.

Ofsted reports frequently talk about the lack of ‘join up’ within Study Programmes with components delivered in isolation or silos when in reality the whole programme needs to be coordinated, linked and working towards shared objectives. It is the joined up approach that brings about high levels of success. In the best performing colleges and training providers, calculation and communication run through all aspects of Study Programmes. It is embedded within the vocational subject, in work experience preparation and practice, in enrichment activity and reinforced during advice and guidance sessions. These learners, often coming to the college or training provider with low previous academic attainment, transform into being successful in all aspects of their studies. Their previous failures are being converted into successes, the feeling of being a winner is helping them to achieve their job aspiration and become a more confident and ambitious person.

Learning is a form of game. If we are winning we want more, we enjoy participating and revel in the feeling of success and achievement. Success breeds success and winning becomes a key driver to continue enthusiastically on the journey. Conversely, if we lose, and repeatedly experience failure, setback and negativity, this inevitably creates frustration and de-motivation. Repeated failure kills off any enthusiasm to participate. As a consequence we want to disengage, withdraw and may possibly become disruptive if our participation is forced.

The conclusion could be that for success to be achieved whether it is developing knowledge or mastering a skill, the motivational state has to be aroused. This then allows for the learner’s interest and engagement desires to be hungry for this information and practice in order to improve and experience the exhilaration of success.

Kerry Boffey, Director, Adult Learning Improvement Network

The Adult Learning Improvement Network (ALIN) are staging two dissemination events to present the findings and good practice from the projects covering Study Programme work experience and innovative approaches to successfully including maths and English into the vocational programmes.

If you would like any further information about the project or would like to be involved please contact [email protected]

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