The latest report published by my Institution NEF: The Innovation Institute shows that there is room for a “radical re-think” for vocational education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to meet the demands of 21st Century employment.

NEF Report 2012The report, "Open Innovation in STEM Learning", recognises the well documented “skills gap” that has emerged in the UK: students are not being trained enough in science and technology, engineering and maths to support our commercial and industrial ambitions. However, it also highlights that these skills are not always sufficient for innovation. Ideas only become worthwhile innovations if they can be put into practice.  And to achieve real innovation and growth usually needs a much wider understanding – the aims and limitations of commerce, how to convince colleagues to try something new, and the value of learning from failures.

At a time when rising costs of education are causing more young people to consider vocational career choices, the report recommends colleges learn some of the lessons from industry training and support innovation in their approach to STEM teaching and learning practice. Moreover educators need to place an emphasis on a STEM skillset that combines: transferable professional skills - including business acumen, and the skills related to knowledge transfer and innovation; personal qualities - including enterprise and initiative, behaviours and attitudes; with technical knowledge and experience – including “know-how”, and importantly “know-why”, a sound understanding of the STEM theory behind practice. This is what NEF has termed the T-Shaped Technologist.   Developed by NEF through a think-tank that included leaders from industry and education, with extensive consultation and based on 7 Industrial case studies, the report identifies new practices that will help educators to directly meet the needs of UK employers, driving innovation and growth.

In his Foreword to our Report Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group said:

It would be wonderful if students emerged, especially from vocational training, with technical know-how but also a good appreciation of business skills and personal behaviours needed for success. Some colleges will need to fundamentally rethink their approach and curriculum but I hope this report gives a wider understanding towards making these changes.

The T-Shaped skillset is increasingly in demand by employers, and these are often met only through industrial apprenticeships and in-house training by companies. The report has provided a framework that will enable educational institutions to remodel their programmes to deliver contemporary technical and scientific vocational education that meets with the needs of learners and society at large.

Professor Sa'ad Medhat, Chief Executive of NEF: the Innovation Institute

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