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Archive for July, 2012

The number of young people “Not in Employment, Education or Training” (NEETs), continues to rise inexorably and has now reached alarming proportions. We are in serious danger of producing a whole generation of people who will only work occasionally or at worst, never.  The social problems that would be created by such a scenario are frightening and go some way to explaining the urgency with which the government is now trying to tackle the problem via its “Welfare to Work” programme and the recently launched “Youth Contract”.

I believe that the fundamental problem is a total disconnect between young people, the education system and employers. This belief is borne out by a recent report produced jointly by the CIPD and the TUC which argued for a systematic and structured approach to bridging the gulf between the three key stakeholders. There are varied and complex reasons why this gulf exists: poor career advice is one and a total misconception of work experience as “slave labour” is another.

But at the heart of the issue lies the lack of basic workplace skills.

I have blogged before about the problem of poor maths and English skills and the hope that the introduction of Functional Skills will result in a dramatic improvement. But the problem goes further. Many NEETs struggle with basic workplace skills because they simply have never been introduced to them in school or in Welfare to Work programmes.

There are some people who argue that Apprenticeships are the answer to this problem. They point out that 70% of Apprentices are existing employees and believe that we can tackle the NEET crisis by offering them an Apprenticeship programme as soon as they find employment.

I would argue that such a strategy would be totally counter-productive.  Young people starting their first job, perhaps after many months or even years without employment, cannot possible be expected to cope with the rigours of a formal, structured training programme, nor have the discipline required to last the course. Their previous learning experiences will often have been poor. We need to find a way of coaxing them back and getting them to realise that by taking ownership of their learning, they have a genuine chance not just simply to hold down a job, but to develop a career.

So we need to develop a programme of “pre-Apprenticeship training” which will provide a bridge to the full range of Apprenticeship programmes. Without such a bridge in place, stepping on to the Apprenticeship ladder will always be difficult. I have spoken to a number of employers over recent weeks who have submitted bids for the “Employer Ownership Funding Pilot” and in every case, their focus has been on this area.  Some Awarding Bodies are already starting to develop “pre-Functional Skills” modules and combined with Level 1 courses, they could form the basis of a range of “pre-Apprenticeship” programmes.

We believe that our huge library of “soft skill” training programmes linked to our expertise in basic maths and English training puts us in an excellent position to support pre-Apprenticeship training. We will be working closely with employers and Awarding Bodies to make a real impact on the current NEET crisis and provide our young people with the first step on the learning ladder.

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Over the last few months I have been travelling the country chairing Functional Skills Special Interest Groups on behalf of the AELP. Surprisingly, with less than 90 days before Functional Skills becomes a mandatory component of the Apprenticeship framework, it has become clear that many providers are still undecided as to how they will deliver the programme.

I suspect that one of the reasons for this is concern about the costs involved in delivery. Providers are continually asking me “How can we possibly deliver a cost-effective Functional Skills programme when the funding levels are so low?” It’s a valid and very understandable concern and I have highlighted the funding issue in an earlier post. Let’s hope that over the coming weeks the government addresses it.

Notwithstanding any potential improvements in funding, I believe that technology may offer a genuine lifeline. Many traditional training providers remain very wary of technology. They see it as a potential threat to their livelihoods rather than a positive enhancement. But we have to accept that the way people learn has changed dramatically over the last five years.  A recent survey showed that schoolchildren prefer to use Google to find the answer to a question rather than ask their teacher.

Those changes are mirrored in the workplace where learners are far more likely to study using elearning or the internet than take time out to attend a face-to-face traditional training event. Informal or “social” learning is becoming the norm, not the exception, and young people now expect to take ownership of their own learning rather than being “taught”.

Functional Skills adapts very well to the use of technology. At MindLeaders, we use elearning to provide the underpinning knowledge and online ePortfolios to set projects for learners which deliver functionality and develop problem-solving skills.  So does this approach mean “teachers” are redundant? Not at all, but it does require a change in role and skill-set. Our learners are not “taught”; they are supported, coached and mentored by an online Learning Support Manager.

Rather than meeting the learner face-to-face with all the costs that are incurred, learners are supported online, by phone, or by Skype. In addition, learners will get rapid, detailed feedback on their work rather than waiting for the next formal “lesson”. As a result, it is not surprising that we have been getting 90% average pass rates, well above the national average.

Whilst there will always be some people who will yearn for the days of traditional classrooms and face-to face teaching, we have to accept that times have changed. Most of today’s learners will have some sort of mobile device and are comfortable with new and different forms of communication.  We need to respond to that positively and embrace the value that technology can bring to education. Not just because it allows us to deliver cost-efficient training solutions, but because it more effectively meets the needs of our learners.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

eLearning Learning

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