Students, both existing and new, are returning to Barking & Dagenham College with a reinvigorated ambition to develop the skills needed to secure sustainable employment. This is not surprising given that research from The Resolution Foundation, earlier this year, confirmed the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn will affect young people disproportionately.
With a growing recognition of the important role that high-quality technical skills play in helping them progress in their careers, we have a collective responsibility to ensure that we deliver on this for all of our students. There are positive sounds being made that a focus on ‘world-class’ standards will underpin the FE White paper, but given the changing environment we find ourselves in right now, we know that there will be a number of challenging issues that the paper must address.
So, what does ‘world-class’ look like in reality? Not an easy conundrum to answer, which is why I was interested in WorldSkills UK’s plans to partner with NCFE to launch the Centre of Excellence.
Barking & Dagenham College has enjoyed a long involvement with WorldSkills UK; we took part in the fantastic WorldSkills event when it was hosted at London EXCEL in 2011 and since then our students have gone onto enjoy regular success at WorldSkills UK LIVE held each year at the NEC in Birmingham. We have also hosted the regional SkillBuild competitions, which CITB run in partnership with WorldSkills UK, in our construction department. Entering WorldSkills UK Competitions has been, and continues to be, hugely beneficial for both our students and staff. For our students, taking part enables them the unique opportunity to benchmark their skills against their peers from across the South East and throughout the UK, providing them with a confidence boost in their own ability and a clear demonstration to potential employers of their skills and knowledge. For teaching staff, preparing students to take part in competitions supports their own professional development, as they are able to keep abreast of the latest industry skills being tested in the competitions. We have found participating in the activity is motivational for staff and students but like WorldSkills UK I felt there was more we could do to ensure the whole college could benefit.
I was delighted for my team when we were selected as one of the 20 FE Colleges to be part of the first year of the Centre of Excellence, which is initially being run as three-year pilot programme. We have been appointed a High-Performance Skills Coach who will work five members of staff to deliver a workforce training programme that will support them in working with staff throughout the college to embed world-class practices and techniques into teaching, learning and assessment programmes across the college. Access to a learning library that will offer skill specific lessons from world-class practitioners will support us in embedding international standards in the courses we offer, and it is this that will help equip our students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in these uncertain times.
To be ‘world-class’, however we need to ensure that we have access to the most current industry standards. Countries including China, Russia, South Korea and Brazil are achieving this through their membership of WorldSkills by using the very insight that WorldSkills UK is capitalising on to mainstream global industry standards into their training. I would enjoy a discussion with my fellow leaders in FE on the policy and practical lessons we can learn from other countries which can be adopted in the UK to improve standards.
We want to offer our students high-quality and professional training that will develop the skills they will need to take their career to the next level. We are confident that our selection to secure funding to open an Institute of Technology and be part of the first cohort of colleges for the WorldSkills UK Centre of Excellence will ensure we deliver on this.
Yvonne Kelly, Principal and CEO, Barking & Dagenham College