Through its industrial and digital strategies, the introduction of T-levels and institutes of technology, the government has put further education (FE) centre stage in closing the UK’s technical skills gap.
Last week’s announcement from government to create a package of measures to support business to boost skills, growth and prosperity in the economy, may well help meet some of the challenges in these policies. For example, the National Retraining Scheme (NRS) is promised a £100m boost, which presents an opportunity for investment in technology and blended learning.
Edtech will enable the current workforce to access the focused, flexible, micro learning opportunities which will help them upskill while they continue to work. Technology within pedagogy will be critical to making the NRS a tool which can be embedded within FE.
The government has also announced a new careers guidance service, where again, technology will be key to providing up-to-date information, advice and guidance for the current and future workforce. This kind of service should also create a snapshot of local, regional and national skills gaps, and the job opportunities therein...
As a sector, FE could link this data to educational pathways, ensuring that courses arm students with the right skills, knowledge and behaviours they will require for jobs of the future.
Understanding the skills employers need
Enabling people to understand the qualifications and skills current employees in a particular professions have (and what they earn) is vital for debunking myths around careers. Clarity and openness around job roles will enable UK citizens to explore the types of occupations they would prefer, as well as understanding how many likely vacancies there will be.
As we read the stories in the media about AI robots taking our jobs in years to come, shining a light on the reality of employment opportunities can only be a good thing.
Investing in technology for a thriving workforce of the future
Jisc is already engaging with the government on the role technology can and should play in delivering adult education and the new T-levels, and we also advocate “digital apprenticeships” where, again, the maximum use of online study and assessment builds a flexible learning model to suit apprentices and their employers.
We believe that, if the sector is to survive and thrive, and colleges are to meet the government’s expectations for upskilling the workforces of today and tomorrow, investment in technology is another priority.
As education secretary, Damian Hinds, said in his speech at the Conservative party conference this week:
“If you think about artificial intelligence, voice computing, the internet, advanced robotics, any of these on their own could constitute a revolution. But right now they are happening all at the same time. And so we’ve got a pace of change that is truly unprecedented.”
Supporting colleges to achieve this vision
Fundamentally though, FE and skills providers need to be fully supported in order to keep pace with such change, and meet the target of 500 apprenticeship standards by the end of 2019.
As part of our efforts to support further education colleges, we’ll be looking to see that the £38m funding boost for equipment and facilities for the first T-level providers makes the best of technological solutions, and we are already in discussions with the DfE.
Whichever route learners take, a digital-first education that supports them both now, and in their careers to come, is going to be increasingly important for students, colleges, and the economy.