David Gallagher, NCFE

Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed the power of lifelong learning many times over, whether that’s been in a classroom, in a work environment, or just life in general. The deep belief that learning is the ‘great leveller’ is what drives the purpose of NCFE, to promote and advance learning, to create a fairer and more inclusive society through education. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the challenge faced by those learners who haven’t chosen or been able to take an academic route into their career or who haven’t undertaken more traditional longer form qualifications. The disparity, and at times clear marginalization linked to this, is the main theme behind what I’m sharing with you today.

During my time working in frontline delivery of employability programmes in some of the most disadvantaged regions of Europe, to my more strategic roles in some of the largest training providers in the UK, I’ve seen the difference that vocational education and skills have made to the lives of thousands of individuals and the communities they live in. Many of the people who came on to programmes during my time in the Welfare to Work sector hadn’t had the kind of role models or support to get them into education or a career, and progress to the next level in the same way as I have had, but I was well aware that they were just as intelligent and capable as me, if not more so. Often, they just needed someone to give them a chance. It got me thinking of the merits of a system that rewards people for their ability to pass exams, sometimes just because their memory recall is better and they cope well under the pressure of exam conditions. Conditions that are rarely repeated post-compulsory education. There are many others who aren’t recognised or rewarded in the same way because they choose to acquire their skills and knowledge through an alternative path – a vocational routeway. It’s something that’s always stuck with me, along with the drive to help find fairer ways for people to fulfil their potential through following the path through learning and life that is best suited to them..

Addressing unconscious bias

So, you can imagine how I felt when I recently noticed an advert for a high-level management job that had a mandatory degree requirement; especially when I don’t have a degree. On reviewing the role I felt that I met all of the requirements, achieved through a route of work experience and vocational qualifications, and I felt this (unconscious?) bias of insisting that a degree was ‘essential’ seemed, frankly, ludicrous.

My initial response of being slightly affronted that on paper I didn’t seem good enough to be eligible to apply for this role, despite years of work experience at the most senior levels and with a raft of skills developed through vocational training, quickly shifted to, ‘if a CEO can be faced with academic snobbery, how much worse might this be for others earlier on in their career’.

I felt compelled to speak up. My ‘degree deficiency’ has never been because I felt I was incapable of getting one, but because I didn’t want to go to university after college, I simply wanted to work. For a number of years after this, I simply couldn’t afford to do anything but work full-time. Partly due to circumstances and partly through choice, I found my own path through education, learning and work. I’m fortunate to have been involved in some fantastic organisations, have gained the most amazing experiences, built networks and developed my career to where I am today at NCFE, and so I’ve never even felt the need to address this ‘degree deficiency’. I can’t say that I believe that for the role I have now – or for the vacancy I saw advertised - a degree would serve me any better than the skills and experience I bring without one. As a leader in education I thought it was important to challenge perceptions that a degree is somehow better than the wide varity of alternatives, that a degree is always required to ‘make it to the top’. It’s not.

I decided to take this challenge to LinkedIn and posted a version of my thoughts above to share with my network, which provoked a lively, and at times impassioned discussion about the importance of degrees, apprenticeships and other routes into employment. It generated such an interesting debate, that in the wake of National Apprenticeship Week, I considered it an appropriate time to revisit the subject and open up the conversation to a wider audience here. 

Before I go any further, I would like to note that I have absolute admiration for those who do have a degree, or any academic qualification for that matter. I applaud their commitment to study and that should be recognised and celebrated, but in the case of the job advert I refer to, as in many others, a degree shouldn’t necessarily be a mandatory requirement. We should value the many different ways that people can achieve and build knowledge, skills and experiences, especially in such a rapidly and dynamically changing labour market.

Using HE as the ultimate benchmark

The attitude towards HE as the gateway to success has always been there but that approach stems from a time when going to university was for many an unattainable goal. There are now five times as many people with degrees as there were in the 1990s, thanks to challenging inequality and widening participation, enabling more degree educated people in the UK than ever before. This access to higher education is fantastic but has led in a lot of instances to people and employers discounting the other equally valuable paths that a person might take into their career.

I am lucky enough to have worked with some amazing people from all walks of life and the biggest thing that this has taught me is that there is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to the world of work. We can’t ignore the fact that hands-on experience is just as important, and sometimes more important, than academic theory. Of course, we need our doctors, nurses, engineers etc to be highly trained academically, but we also want them to have that hands-on experience that is crucial for them to be able to succeed in their careers. What we do need to do though is to stop using those professions where a degree is absolutely essential as a benchmark for everything else.

Careers advice to empower learners

I’ve also thought a lot recently about careers advice in the context of how vocational education is perceived by people in terms of a routeway to a career. IAG is a particularly difficult area to get right at the minute, with the labour market shifting so quickly and dynamically, it’s hard to see what’s coming down the track and what sectors are going to have the volume of jobs. For this reason, I’d always encourage learners to choose a job in something that they love doing, and in turn, they will be more engaged and probably fare better at it. Additionally, within education, we need to centre our thinking differently and place emphasis not just on academic achievement, but on nurturing those meta skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, creativity, critical thinking and decision making, what I call ‘teaching a person to fish’ skills. If you have these characteristics then you’ll be resilient, and as the world changes, you’ll have what it takes to change with it and survive. Those things are what will set people apart and mean that they have the fundamental skills to achieve, no matter which path they choose.

This isn’t a binary issue

Finally, and most importantly, if we’re going to change the thinking around the respective benefits of FE and HE, we need to stop pitting them against each other because they are both things which we should value equally for what they bring to society and the economy. There is so much crossover in vocational and academic learning and one can’t really exist without the other, so we need to recognise this and nurture, develop and celebrate both in equal measure.

This issue isn’t binary, and employers should approach it this way. The amount of change and upheaval we’ve experienced over the past year shows us that we can change and adapt quickly to new ways of thinking and working, so surely that can apply to outdated recruitment practices too. This could be a great time for employers to rip up the recruitment rule book when it comes to entry requirements, much like the HE and FE sector are having to do in light of exam cancellations.

We’re on the verge of a real step change here and it’s up to us to support employers to focus on what really matters in terms of creating an inclusive workplace – finding the right person for the job - degree or not.

We recently discussed this issue in more depth on the NCFE podcast which you can find here.

David Gallagher, CEO at NCFE

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Solvendis added a new event 5 hours

Preparing for an Ofsted Inspection (Zoom Conferencing)

Many providers remain anxious about the introduction of the Education Inspection Framework and the changes which accompany its introduction....

  • Thursday, 17 June 2021 10:00 AM
  • Zoom Conferencing
Solvendis added a new event 5 hours

Preparing for an Ofsted Inspection (Zoom Conferencing)

Many providers remain anxious about the introduction of the Education Inspection Framework and the changes which accompany its introduction....

  • Tuesday, 11 May 2021 10:00 AM
  • Zoom Conferencing
Solvendis added a new event 5 hours

Designated Safeguarding Lead Training (Zoom Conferencing)

A provider’s Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) plays a critical role in its approach to safeguarding its learners, training its staff, providing...

  • Tuesday, 22 June 2021 10:00 AM
  • Zoom Conferencing

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page