From education to employment

Upskilling The FE Workforce to Meet Changing Needs

Kerry Boffey

Kerry proposes new workforce development initiatives for FE teachers and trainers, including improving colleagues’ digital skills and responding to post-pandemic learning styles.

In the dynamic landscape of post-16 education, the significance of research cannot be overstated. It serves as the compass guiding institutions to accurately meet the evolving needs of developing a future-ready workforce.

Earlier this year the Adult Learning Improvement Network (ALIN) and AMFE started a comprehensive, qualitative and quantitative national research project across all types of providers delivering ESFA-funded learning to identify providers’ workforce development needs. Providers completed online surveys, attended discussion forums and focus groups with information gathered also from in-depth interviews, data analysis and archival study. Aligning this research with the detailed analysis of Ofsted inspection reports carried out by Fellowship of Inspection Nominees, clear patterns and trends have emerged.

The inspection reports reveal a change in Ofsted’s focus, particularly towards supporting staff with their Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Ofsted recognises that a one-size-fits-all approach to CPD isn’t necessarily the answer. Instead it advocates targeted training to enhance teaching skills across all programme types.

Having acknowledged this, our research has identified critical threads seen across many industries, different learner and programme types and at all levels. Three T’s are emerging,

Targeted, Timely and Transformative, which are vital for successful CPD planning.

Closing the digital skills gap among provider staff

The digital skills gap among educators is a recurring issue. With technology permeating every aspect of modern life, it’s imperative for educators to stay abreast of digital advancements, but we’re seeing a concerning lack of up-to-date digital skills among staff colleagues. This underscores the need for targeted interventions and resources to bridge this gap effectively.

Moreover, to address this challenge, assessing digital skills needs and competencies presents a significant challenge for providers. Unlike traditional subjects like English and maths, there is a dearth of standardised assessments for digital literacy. Institutions must innovate in this regard, developing comprehensive frameworks to evaluate digital skills needs, including understanding the advances, opportunities and potential pitfalls presented by AI.

Impact of pandemic on learning styles

Those engaged with teaching and training 16-18 year olds are seeing behavioural changes from previous cohorts. Society changed in many ways during Covid with schooling facing dramatic challenges. As a result, many young people have for example a different approach to learning, to learning in groups and to face an assessment or exam. The expectations of learners, parents and employers have all developed but not necessarily in the same direction. As a result, teachers and trainers have identified the need to develop new strategies which embrace a greater focus on mental health and pastoral support. Some teaching staff do not feel sufficiently well-equipped to deal with these complexities and where training is provided, it can sometimes be retrospective following a situation or incident.

Teaching recruitment challenge

Recruitment is a constant challenge for providers and our focus groups revealed real frustrations, especially after Ofsted further compounded the issue by identifying shortages but was unable to offer solutions to the national shortage in some subject areas. 

More highly technical expert staff are being sourced from various industries. Unfortunately this can be a double-edged sword. These experts bring with them cutting-edge knowledge and experiences essential for learners and apprentices to thrive in a rapidly evolving job market. Yet at the same time, these experts are not trained teachers.

Turning technical experts into effective educators is not a quick task. Those of us with a teaching background know and understand from first hand experience the importance of differentiation, engagement and assessment strategies. Teaching is a craft in itself.

On recruitment in the north of England, Alex Miles, CEO of AMFE, has shared her experiences with FIN members, such as encouraging ex-armed forces personnel to come into teaching or the difficulty in meeting learner demand for study programmes because of the loss of teaching expertise. On a brighter note, initiatives such as skills bootcamps in teaching offer a promising avenue for bringing industry experts into the education fold. By equipping them with teaching skills, these programmes bridge the gap between industry knowledge and pedagogical expertise.

Anticipating industry trends and aligning training programmes accordingly, providers can ensure that their workforce remains agile and adaptable to the demands of the future.

By Kerry Boffey, Fellowship of Inspection Nominees

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