From education to employment

Creating a productive adult training system

If the “ultimate” value that we are striving to achieve is about creating prosperity – in economic terms “better Gross Value Added” (GVA) by a sector or a region– then this translates itself into two things:

1. Creating a higher level of employment opportunities (i.e. capacity in the economy)

2. Increasing the amount of output that each person produces (i.e. Capability of individuals, and, competitiveness of firms)
These will drive productivity improvement with growth as the net effect.

To achieve this, an improvement in the occupational profile is needed, particularly in STEM industry sectors to raise both the occupational level, and the aspiration, by all involved.

This demands a reconfiguration of qualifications, and the knowledge and skills they develop and instil in learners and trainees.
Within over 70 STEM Strategies that my organisation, the NEF, has had the privilege to create across the FE landscape, we identified that the misalignment between supply and demand is sometimes as much as 80%.

More of the same is absolutely not an option. Maintaining the status-quo can only result in low level training, or a transient and localised benefit for an employer or group of employers. Or even worse, it could become a contributor to the death of micro and small enterprises in a region – through neglected opportunities.

In NEF’s view, there are 3 key interconnecting axes that need to be better aligned –

• Business (i.e. Markets)

• Skills Producers (i.e. Colleges, HE, private providers, companies)

• Local Enterprise Partnerships & Government (i.e. Enablement to address market failure)

In Business – the largest area for employment is in “replacement demand”, whilst the growth in new jobs is mostly limited, with the exception being in some sectors such as IT and Health.

In Education & Training – significant course structures and content are out of sync with industry needs. They are dated, and are designed, or being designed, using “entrenched legacy-thinking”. They are NOT strategic in design, nor flexible in delivery.

Many of the staff teaching in the skills sector, particularly in STEM, are out of date, or their focus is on very low level training despite the job opportunities requiring level 4 and above. My organisation offers the longest standing STEM professional development programme – the Industrial Fellowship Scheme- to FE lecturers in the form of industrial secondment, as well as providing Masterclasses in cutting-edge technologies.

In Policy (Government & LEPs) – The ownership of skills development should be a collective responsibility by business, education, government and individuals. We at NEF favour a more inclusive and collaborative approach to skills development that focuses on regional economic priorities; supported by “seed funding”, created through a “Crowd-Funding” process, with a star ranking similar to that used by iTunes, Amazon, eBay etc as an indicator of quality and popularity. This way the co-creation of training can happen more effectively, and subject expertise that reflects the changing profile of occupational structures in a region can be developed, in a scalable and sustainable manner.

So the 3 things that will need to be considered to improve the productivity of the Adult Training System are:

1. Leverage smart and collaborative technologies better, by using a ‘regional responsibility’ mandate

2. Restructure courses using Open Innovation practices in learning, training and development

3. Use an aggregated collaborative bidding or funding model that enables the co-creation of training to address specific regional skills deficits, almost in real-time.

Professor Sa’ad Medhat is chief executive of NEF: The Innovation Institute, the professional body and provider of SciTech innovation and growth services to business, education and government

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