Barely a week goes past without a report or survey showing the workplace environment is changing fast and therefore our education and skills system is faced with a major challenge in offering provision which is up to date and relevant. One answer lies with forging closer links to employers who can help training providers and colleges ensure that the provision is indeed meeting their needs.
With support and funding from the Education and Training Foundation, UCL Institute of Education and AELP are exploring the most effective means of making this happen via the Teach Too development programme which takes forward recommendations from last year's CAVTL report.
Using vocational and education training (VET) partnerships, Teach Too has during 2014 tested various ways in involving employers to maximise outcomes for learners and the employers themselves while making providers more successful in the effectiveness of their VET delivery.
It may seem obvious but the more closely employer staff work with teachers and trainers on developing the curriculum, on programme design and on sharing the delivery of learning and assessment, the stronger is the clear line of sight for the learner. And by that, we mean better targeted support for the learner to gain entry to employment. At the same time, employers and providers benefit from a two-way street where the employer staff gain a better understanding about their role in the teaching and may have access to the expertise and equipment maintained by providers, while provider staff acquire more up to date knowledge of the skills required at the workplace.
Colleges and providers across the country have collaborated with employers in over 15 Teach Too development projects and each project has been different in that they did not have to focus on every area of the programme's framework. For example, Midland Group Training is working across the dairy industry to develop the reach of technology including learning design that provides the specific industrial context for the learner. Fashion Enter have involved professional film makers and animators to create new visual materials that enable learners to visualise more easily the relationship between the separate stage of garment production and the final garment, and how this varies depending on designs and patterns (details about all the Teach Too projects are available on a dedicated website).
From the development projects, we have seen some emerging best practice that could impact positively on the sector as a whole, including:
- combining employer and provider resources and skills to benefit learners, providers and employers
- developing the teaching skills of the occupational expert
- developing employability skills in learners
- employer-provider identification of skills needs and creation of bespoke training solutions to address the skills gaps, especially in dynamic and emerging occupational areas
- enhancing the curriculum through the development of sector-specific technological resources
- creating co-owned/managed environments for learners
- locating the clear line of sight to work within a regional strategy.
The management of the projects has not all been plain sailing and a number of lessons have been learnt. For example, matching employer skill needs with education and training provision requires both collective imagination and careful time management; leadership plays a central role in ensuring that funds for development projects extend or enhance existing practice; embedding and transferring practice is best accomplished through having not only SMART targets and timeframes, but also a 'two-way street' commitment to culture change; and it is important to recognise that learner feedback can assist the ongoing refinement of Teach Too practice.
For employers, the advantages in participating in Teach Too are having access to a pool of potential employees trained in relevant skills and expectation and who already have knowledge and experience of the workplace. Businesses benefit from a strategic perspective on the relationship between skills and capabilities that are needed in the short term and in the future, and how colleges and providers can contribute to realising these. They also gain access to accreditation which enables employer staff to gain recognition for new management, leadership, learning and teaching skills.
There are obvious advantages for learners too, such as understanding that ICT can be a workplace resource for the development of aspects of occupational expertise while also appreciating that English and maths are important qualifications for progression. These benefits match the aims of the STEM Alliance, also supported by AELP and the Foundation, which is keen to link FE and skills providers to industries needing thousands more engineers, technicians and scientists over the next five years.
Planning is now well under way for phase 2 of the Teach Too programme and we want it to help inform the development of new vocational qualifications which recognise that the workplace is changing and can meet the demands of emerging industries. This will inevitably include some focus on STEM-based programmes of study and generating fresh thinking about how vocational teachers can support improvements in learners' maths achievements at level 2 and 3, a level of attainment which normally constitutes a critical pipeline to high-level study or employment.
Working with the Foundation, we will also be encouraging providers and colleges to find out more about Teach Too at a conference hosted by the IoE in London on 19 January. Further details are available here.
Stella Turner is head of qualifications and delivery at the Association of Employment and Learning Providers