Rebecca Garrod-Waters, CEO of Ufi VocTech Trust

It was great to hear the Prime Ministers speech on the 30th September. It was a welcome recognition of the importance of the full spectrum of the skills sector, and the need to focus on vocational skills as an integral part of our economic recovery and planning.

I am delighted that the work of the Augur review has been valued and removing the bias towards HE inherent in the funding system is a hugely important step in valuing and celebrating FE and vocational skills more broadly.

We have been calling for this holistic approach to skills in the UK for some time, recognising that the distinction between HE and FE is deeply unhelpful and has led to a huge gulf in opportunities to access skills and grow and develop careers for many people.

The removal of the barrier to learning for those over 24 is also a welcome step. This has long been a frustration among employers and providers and has hampered the development of skills designed to meet changing needs in the workplace.

It is vital that this welcome change to skills policy reflects on the lessons we have learnt from the pandemic – where we can create better opportunity and access for young people and support better outcomes for learners through the use of the right technology.

The impact of Covid-19 has been to force many organisations to speed up on the digital pathway that previously they had been navigating very slowly. Whilst some of this transition has been painful, and some of the technology implementation has been far from perfect, the reality is that for many this has brought a realisation of the benefits that technology can bring.

Tech is a tool and, just like every other tool to support teaching and learning, it must be used in the correct way and those using it need understanding and confidence. In addition, it is essential that technology is not seen as a replacement for the human, but rather an enhancement – where technology can support better delivery, improved learner outcomes and greater access and opportunity.

I welcome the Prime Minister shining the spotlight on the important skills the country needs, and the essential role that FE will play in delivering these.

The announcement of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee is a very welcome broadening of skills policy, and it is heartening that this is accompanied by the announcement of investment in the FE infrastructure. It is vital that this investment is digitally enabled and recognises that a world class vocational skills system is a system where the technology is integral and high quality.

Ufi has funded the development of technology that recognises the importance of designing for adults and designing for vocational – we work with a community that puts the practical hands-on disciplines front and centre. We have talked about these disciplines as unloved – I hope the announcement by the Prime Minister is the start of the much needed journey towards better valuing and celebration of these skills.

It is vital that we support our FE sector and the ongoing development of vocational skills for all – and this must future looking and recognise the essential role that technology must play.

By Rebecca Garrod-Waters, CEO of Ufi VocTech Trust

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