From education to employment

Florence Orban Q&A – transforming lives through adult education

Florence Orban, chief executive of the National Skills Academy (NSA) for Sport and Active Leisure, speaks to FE News about how she is helping people of any age to transform their lives through education.

Ms Orban, who is also chair of the Strategic Network for National Skills Academies, launched the NSA in 2008. She is also responsible for the creation of Active Passport, the UK skills passport for the sector. Under her leadership, the NSA has trained more than 27,000 people.

Can you tell us a little about the role of the NSA for Sport and Active Leisure?

The NSA is designed to raise the standard of delivery of vocational training and qualifications in the sector. We work in collaboration with employers and the best training providers to broker the best training in response to employer needs.

We work with providers to ensure the criteria of the training programmes offered are directly matched to the needs of employers within the industry, giving our learners the best value for their time and money.

How long have you been working in adult education?

For over ten years; I began working at an e-learning training provider where I remained for five years before joining the SkillsActive Group in 2005. In 2008, I became Chief Executive of the NSA for Sport and Active Leisure and launched the Academy.

Can you tell us about your new role as the Chair of Strategic Networks?

Yes, in this role I lead the communication between the network of National Skills Academies and the Government, ensuring the needs of employers in the industry are met. I also strive to ensure that the network of NSAs is included in any plans the Government has to improve vocational skills. The NSA is now the only recognised quality badge in vocational training and therefore academies hold great weight in helping the Government to achieve against their Localisation Agenda.

How do you feel the adult education sector has evolved since you began your career in the sector in 2000?

In the decade I have worked in adult education I have witnessed great progress within the sector. In e-learning specifically, the accessibility and quality of programmes has developed significantly and these programmes are now embedded within other forms of learning.

The simplification of the adult education framework and increase in Apprenticeships is a positive move for the sector and offers a tailored approach, with employers involved in every stage of the programming process.

There is now a better understanding that education can benefit an individual of any age, not just young people, and the educational journey should continue throughout one’s life.

Some colleges and training providers now have a firm understanding of the need for courses to be accessible to individuals of all ages and communicate this well, however this area still needs work.

The recent launch of activepassport is the foundation of the professional workforce and a huge step in the field of adult education. The skills passport allows an employer to access an individual’s qualifications and learning experience in a simple and effective manner, assured that the passport is a professionally recognised, validated document.

From an individual learner’s perspective, the launch of activepassport enhances their educational journey as they can rest assured all qualifications are recognised in their industry and safe in one place. In addition, a learner can access suggestions on further training to develop current and pending qualifications; this is a key element in education, to open avenues for other employment opportunities.

What inspired you to pursue a career in adult education?

I really believe in the power of education and the difference it can make to a person’s life. I wanted to be part of something that gave individuals access to the right tools to better their lives.

Education can build confidence and give someone a second or third chance in life and I feel privileged to be in a position that enables me to secure funding for courses which will make a difference to thousands of people’s lives, of any age.

What options are available for adults looking to retrain or upskill?

There is a whole range of courses available for adults looking to retrain completely or simply expand their skill set, including both Apprenticeships, where you can learn on the job, and college-led courses.

It is important that an individual, of any age, understands the value a particular course will bring to their end goal. For example, if you were looking to get into the fitness sector, ensure that the course you sign up to is REPs accredited as these will be the only qualifications that employers accept.

Vocational training is a powerful tool for people to change their career or to ensure career progression. Learning methodologies are flexible and prior learning and experience is well recognised so there are many options for adults looking to study. With the range of options available, learning can blend with an individual’s work rather than run in parallel to their professional life. The quality of vocational learning is not appreciated enough at all levels and we need to change this: to make more people aware of the benefits and quality of vocational provision, and to promote and recognise the best providers, as we do through National Skills Academies.

How do national events such as Adult Learners Week (14-20 May) add value to the adult education sector?

When Adult Learners Week is done well by stakeholders, delivering information on adult education in an informal setting, it is fantastic and an extremely effective way of breaking down the barriers surrounding the sector. For many, the main obstacle to overcome in the retraining journey is having the confidence to explore the opportunities out there, to hold your hand up and say “I want to make a change.”

ALW provides an opportunity for companies to take adult education opportunities into the community which is vital to increasing participation and raising awareness of the sector.

What is the importance in up-skilling the sport and active leisure industry?

Up-skilling in the sports and active leisure industry is crucial to an individual’s career development and mandatory for some positions. In such a fast paced industry, there are always new techniques and new ways of coaching or instructing to be learnt.

It is essential that professionals within the sector recognise the importance of learning new skills, both in terms of technical qualifications and customer service as the industry is very people focused.

Business and management skills are another area that the industry could benefit from focusing on and there are many training opportunities available within this field.

What avenues are available to someone looking to enter the sport and active leisure industry?

The up-skill opportunities in the sports sector are extremely varied; an adult from a business background, for example, could undertake training in franchise management and explore opportunities to begin their own business.

For anyone looking to retrain in fitness it is important that their chosen course is fully REPs accredited. REPs qualifications range from Level 2 Gym or Aqua Instructor to Level 3 Personal Trainer or Level 4 for specialist areas.

What is the future of adult education?

Adult education is essential to the productivity of the country. As a nation, we need to effectively promote the value of education to an individual of any age, not just young people. In collaborating with employers, providers will help to ensure that adult education is recognised and valued both within the industry and amongst students considering learning a new skill.

People will continue to recognise the power of Apprenticeships and it is important that we continue to communicate that these programmes are not just for 16 – 18 year olds, they can significantly benefit an individual’s career of any age.

The future of adult education, of course, lays in the time potential learners have to dedicate to learning. The continuing development of distance learning will help to ensure educational courses can be managed around a full time job and busy family life.

For more information on National Skills Academy (NSA) for Sport and Active Leisure, visit

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