From education to employment

Week of VocTech – looking through the lens of Inclusive FE | #VocTechFutures Ep 7


One of the underlying questions in Ufi’s work on the VocTech Challenge work over 2021 has been “how can digital technology help ensure equity of opportunity to develop skills for work?”. This episode reflected on how this question has been addressed during the wide diversity of sessions during #Week of VocTech. The episode also includes the announcement the organisations being offered funding as part of the Ufi’s VocTech Challenge; £1.5m to help level up learning for those most impacted by the digital divide.

Co-anchor Louise Rowland was joined for the Livestream by Ufi Trustee Jeff Greenidge, Director For Diversity at The Education and Training Foundation & The Association of Colleges, and Ufi team members Josh Smith and Mahreen Ferdous, to look back on the events of the week.

Louise Rowland announces more than £1.5m in grant funding for 14 projects that use tech to help adults impacted by the digital divide, so they can gain the confidence to get the skills they need for work.

The #WeekofVocTech is a free programme of online events exploring the role of digital technology in vocational training and to celebrate its impact on learners, employers, training providers and society as a whole.

This highly interactive week united trainers, learning providers, developers, investors, funders and policymakers over five days of networking, interactive sessions and celebration of ‘what works’ in financing, developing, and deploying VocTech.

The Week of VocTech 2021 is the perfect opportunity for you to be inspired by how digital solutions are transforming the lives of adult learners across the UK, to share experiences, ideas and network with others who have a passion for vocational learning – all the sessions are available to replay, so if you missed it, head over to the Week of VocTech website to catch up. Or search Twitter for the hashtag #WeekofVoctech for summaries of some of the key content.

There were many examples across the #WeekofVocTech of how participants in the presentations and webinars were addressing issues of diversity, access, and inclusion. With so many distinct aspects of need and challenge, it is difficult to sum them up in one article, but here are some of the highlights.

In the first session on Monday, the VocTech Podcast Live, Capslock spoke passionately about making learning opportunities available to those with parental responsibilities by running courses only between 9.30 and 2.30. Building on their own experiences of difficult-to-access learning, the founders have made every effort to make sure they do things differently. An inspiring quote from the session was “if we move towards where we want to be, the tech will catch up with us” – this is all about the intention to be inclusive being front and centre.

The 100% for Impact session produced the insightful quote – “everything you do has an impact, you just have to make sure it’s the one you want”. This sums up beautifully why Ufi made the decision to switch its investment portfolio into areas that had a clear impact on our mission to help those currently most excluded from learning and work.

Tuesday’s session “Tech and learning for a society in transition” looked at how the world might seem in 2030. Whilst always challenging to future-gaze, as the future has a way of surprising us, as 2020 showed, the panel made some very interesting predictions, many of which were based around much greater accessibility of technologies to support more diverse learning styles. In a lively chat alongside the presentation, attendees also debated the need for different ways for learners to evidence their skills that recognise the many different learning paths they have been on. Inclusion also extends to teaching staff, who will need to adapt their practice to make sure new technology such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) is supportive of the all-important HI (Human Intelligence), and there is a crucial role for tech providers in helping them make that transition.

The AmplifyFE Twitter Showcase included the prompt “Our sector is diverse and rich in people who care and support each other and we support initiatives live #FEtapestry (a nationwide map of where all the great stuff is going on!). Share something that gives you hope and inspires you about FE” with some great responses including “I found my voice, confidence and belief and feel very appreciative” from one participant. You can see the whole discussion on Wakelet.

The main VocTech Showcase had a dedicated breakout on diversity and inclusion. Prompted by Jeff Greenidge’s question “how can we make sure that we are not just designing more for those that already have good access to learning. What can we do to offer equity of opportunity to those that are currently ‘have nots’ in this space,” the panel shared their own experiences and responded to audience questions. Highlights from the session included panel members sharing from different perspectives the message of ‘see it and you can be it’ to encourage participation from those currently less represented in either learning or in the workplace – the importance of learners seeing themselves reflected both in the learning environment and with longer-term role models. There were also several takes on the issue of finding safe places to learn – places where learners can focus, concentrate, and really show their skills and competences.

The Trustees Round Table was an inspiring hour getting to know the Board and hearing what inspired them to volunteer to be involved. It really reinforced that diversity and inclusion are at the heart of Ufi’s mission. “The unloved” as our CEO often refers to the learner groups that our funding supports, are where all our effort is centered to try and bridge the gaps they currently face in accessing learning and work. Places where mainstream education and training has not been effective and where there is not a strong enough demand for the market to step in. That is where we can do the most to make a difference and address equity and equality, and why our Trustees give up their time to offer their expertise in support of our mission.

In the final session of the week, Louise Rowland, Deputy CEO of UFI hosted the session “How can digital technology support colleges with lost learning?”. The session covered a lot of ground, around how tech can help reduce the long-term risk that those young people who have missed out most don’t become adults who cannot access lifelong learning. Important insights emerged including “we need to help people to discover and learn the way they learn best, whether it’s enquiry based and exploratory learning etc. Also needs to be mindful of neurodivergent learners and other needs”.

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