How Activate Learning’s inclusion in the Skills for Jobs White Paper for its employer engagement sets the bar for others to follow

8 February, 2021

Last month saw the publication of the Skills for Jobs White Paper, which outlined the Government’s vision for how the further education sector will play an important role in ensuring people get the skills they need for good jobs, now and in the future.

Activate Learning were proud to have one of its projects included in the white paper, the Thames Valley Talent Transfer Programme.

Here, Dr Alice Eardley, a Faculty Manager within Activate Learning’s Technology faculty, who worked to develop the programme for Activate Learning, talks about the project and how it sets the bar for working with stakeholders outside our sector to develop skills and knowledge for teachers as well as students.

Dr Alice Eardley, Faculty Manager at Activate Learning

Just as January’s further education White Paper was being met with cautious celebration from commentators across the skills sector, I was enjoying a quiet celebration of my own in response to the inclusion of an account of Activate Learning’s Thames Valley Talent Transfer Programme.

This scheme, which focussed on supporting tutors to undertake short-term placements with businesses connected to their subject specialisms, was the culmination of several years’ work exploring effective means of linking teachers to industry to foster collaborative curriculum development and delivery.

Working with employers including Costain, Galliford Try, Panasonic, Volume AI, and Westcoast, we looked to find new ways of enhancing course delivery to promote student achievement and progression into employment. It was therefore gratifying to see the project featured at the heart of a paper that not only prioritises on-going employer engagement with the sector but also, more specifically, the continued refinement of teaching expertise in partnership with employers.

With the Thames Valley Talent Transfer Programme, we developed an extended programme designed to benefit both teachers and employers. For teachers, the programme involved thinking about how they could make the most of the time they spent out in industry and how they might use this experience to develop their teaching once they were back in college, bringing cutting edge knowledge back to their students.

This involved, for example, bringing Cloud Physics to computing students and exploring the potential for IT and construction tutors to work together using Augmented and Virtual Reality in the creation of Digital Twins for building projects.

After the teaching staff had undertaken their placements, we invited industry representatives into the classroom to undertake a reciprocal placement, supporting student learning and developing their own understanding of the further education sector and of how they and their business might become more deeply involved in skills development.

We viewed staff industry placements as a means of helping teaching staff and industry professionals to embark on working relationships that would support future collaborative work on curriculum development and classroom delivery. The aims of the programme were to support teachers to update and develop their industry knowledge, to enable employers to see how they might play a part in developing their future workforce, and to facilitate and foster dialogue between the different sectors so deeper synergies could develop.

When we embarked on the Thames Valley Talent Transfer Programme we had, primarily, preparation for T Levels in mind. Teachers, particularly those working in the fast-moving digital sector, were looking to ensure their industry skills and knowledge were up to date and we also needed an avenue for collaborative curriculum design that would ensure, among other things, a smooth transition between student industry placements and learning in college.

As work went on, different models of collaboration emerged from our pilot: individual teachers were working with individual business professionals to deliver courses and other experiences for students, and we also had teams of teachers delivering programmes of work and industry engagement developed with employers.

The programme provided an ideal means of thinking about what teacher-led, employer-engaged pedagogy can look like and about the many different forms it can take. As the white paper reminds us, these models for teacher and curriculum development need, indeed should, not be limited to T-Levels. There is ample need and opportunity across the sector for businesses and colleges to work together at all levels to enrich student learning and to open up opportunities for the development of life skills and for transition into employment.

Taken as a whole, the White Paper provides a vision of an further education sector that undertakes consistent engagement with employers to ensure learners at all levels and at all stages in their lives and careers benefit from skills development opportunities that, among other things, support their participation in their local economy.

More specifically, it puts forward a manifesto for “the reform of initial teacher education so it is based on employer-led standards” (p. 63) and for “a new Workforce Industry Exchange programme” that will “build the capacity of the further education workforce by supporting providers to engage in a sustainable, two-way exchange with industry, building up long-lasting networks with employers” (p. 65).

I am intrigued (and excited) to see what emerges from these aims, and will be quietly celebrating once again if the result is a robust model for a widespread, balanced approach to employers training with teachers.

Teachers and employers training each other in their relative areas of expertise, working together to learn how to design and deliver industry-informed, pedagogically-sound curriculums, all while actively collaborating to prepare our students for their future lives and careers.

It is this approach, I believe, that will make a vital contribution to the sector’s enduring ambition to take a leading role in individual, regional, and national growth, and development, in all their forms.