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Archive for May, 2013

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Last week, the government published its long-awaited plans for the much hyped Traineeship programme, designed to provide a new path into the workplace for the nearly 1million young adults who are currently classified as GREETs (Getting Ready for Education, Employment or Training). The framework, to be completed within 6 months, comprised a robust and structured work placement, a set of basic employability skills and Functional Skills in English and Maths up to Level 2 (equivalent to GCSE A-C grade).

The programme was designed largely in response to concerns expressed by employers that they were unable to fill existing vacancies because the applicants simply didn’t possess the basic skills which they felt to be essential if they were to succeed. Traineeships have been subject to an extensive consultation process during the last 4 months and we were very pleased to be given the opportunity to contribute to that process.

So now that we finally have some detailed plans available, what conclusions can we draw about the likely success of the programme?

Employers’ Role is Vital

Firstly, I am delighted to see that employers will play a key role in the delivery of Traineeships. This scheme will only work if employers get behind it and if it gives learners the skill set they require to gain a job and develop a career. It is right therefore that employers should be the beating heart of the scheme and can ensure that traineeships deliver what is required in their sector. My hope is that Traineeships will provide the missing first link in the Apprenticeship programme and that successful learners will go on not just to get a job, but to start a career.

Functional Skills is a Key Component

Secondly, I am very pleased that Functional Skills in English and Maths are clearly going to be a central component of Traineeships. As a specialist Functional skills provider, this is perhaps not surprising but it is pleasing to have our view that these core skills are critical for future success, confirmed by the government.

I am equally pleased that the government has taken on feedback and no longer expects Trainees to achieve a Level 2 in Functional Skills. The wording from the original discussion document has been changed to “working towards a Level 2” and this subtle but important modification makes a lot of sense. We have to accept that many people starting a Traineeship will be lacking in confidence and motivation having had a negative experience with these subjects at school. Our challenge, which we are happy to accept, is to prove that learning English and Maths can be fun and valuable but we need more time than a Traineeship will provide to help these people to achieve the equivalent of a GCSE A-C grade in both subjects. We’ll tackle that one when they start their Apprenticeship programme.

But What About 19-24 Year Olds?

So why not three cheers? Well, I do have one serious concern and that is the fact that initially, Traineeships will only be available for 16-18 year olds and for learners with special difficulties up to the age of 25. Whilst it is sad and worrying that any young adult is classified as a GREET, surely the priority is those slightly older people in the 19-24 year old cohort, who have probably been out of work or education for a longer period and whose life chances are slipping away even faster than their younger compatriots.

Whilst the government has signalled its intention to address this group next year, I think a real opportunity has been lost. The issue, as ever, is probably funding. 16-18 year old Traineeships will be funded from existing work study programmes but there is no equivalent pot of money for older learners and the SFA will no doubt rightly claim that their budgets are fully allocated. However, governments have a habit of suddenly finding additional funds when the need is really pressing and I think that the launch of such an important programme, warranted a loosening of the purse strings.

But Let’s End on a Positive Note

Notwithstanding those concerns, I am delighted that Traineeships have arrived and my congratulations to Matthew Hancock, the Skills Minister, for turning an idea into a fully operational scheme in such a short period of time. We look forward to working with our corporate clients to make the scheme a real success. This cannot simply be a question of massaging the unemployment figures. We have to see it as a genuine opportunity to provide as many young people as possible with the real chance of a fulfilling job and career.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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Learning-technologies

How can the UK address the current skills crisis, whilst at the same time reducing the disastrously high level of GREETs (Getting Ready for Education, Employment or Training)? One thing is for sure – the role of the adult education sector will be of paramount importance. The sector should be leading the way by implementing innovative learning techniques, and using technology to engage individuals and introduce efficiencies. Sadly, I believe that is often not the case.

Over the last 12 months, I have chaired conventions and workshops and attended a variety of conferences with fellow practitioners in the sector and I am deeply worried about the responses that I often get to questions and suggestions in the educational technology arena. Here are just a few examples:

eLearning: “May work for some, but not for us. Our learners don’t have access to computers”

Flipped Classrooms: “Never heard of it”

e-Portfolios: “There’s nothing wrong with workbooks. We’ve always used them”

Social Learning: “Twitter is a load of rubbish”

I believe that many of these responses are emotional rather than rational and are based largely on Fear. People are afraid of change, afraid of technology and afraid of losing their jobs. So if the sector is going to move on and play what could be such a key role on the skills agenda, we have to find a way of addressing those genuinely-held concerns.

Fear of Change

Change is never an easy process to handle. It takes us out of our comfort zones and into areas which are unfamiliar and challenging. . Yet change is an essential feature of our working lives and a critical process for any successful organisation. Type in “Change Management” in Amazon, and you come up with nearly 75,000 books on the subject but from my experience, there is one simple process you need to follow.

Consider the following two statements to a team of adult education trainers

“We have decided to implement an e-Portfolio system, so we will no longer be using workbooks and we are arranging some familiarisation sessions for you”

“We know that you have had a lot of issues with workbooks so we want to look at some alternative solutions and would value your input in the process. We have therefore arranged for some team meetings during which you can help to evaluate the different options”

There are absolutely no brownie points for guessing which statement will be more likely to win hearts and minds. Involve people in the process rather than imposing solutions and suddenly the fears dissipate and people focus on the benefits. It’s not rocket science but sadly it still seems to be alien to the culture of many organisations.

Fear Of Technology

Fear of technology is a different issue. The term “Educational Technology” covers a huge range of areas from mobile platforms to social learning. A vital first step is therefore to understand exactly where the fear lies and the reasons behind it. I suspect that in many cases, that fear results from a fear of redundancy. In other words, a belief that technology will in some way reduce the need for bodies on the ground. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Training providers who embrace technology will almost certainly be more successful than their compatriots who resist change and are therefore more likely to be recruiting rather than downsizing.

That said, we have to accept that the world of learning is changing rapidly as a result of the introduction of new technology and as such, the roles of the people within it will also change. The concept of the teacher or trainer as a “provider of knowledge” is no longer relevant when such knowledge is readily available via Google, The Khan Academy and thousands of YouTube videos. Instead, we are looking for people who can coach and mentor, people who can influence behaviour and people who can show learners how to functionalise and adapt the knowledge they have obtained to different situations they will face both in the workplace and in life.

That of course, requires a different set of skills, but they are skills which can be learnt and developed through experience and which potentially provide traditional trainers and teacher with a much more satisfying and fulfilling role.

So I think it is time to ditch the “Fear Factor” in vocational training and to embrace change and technology, not for their own sake, but because they can enhance the learner experience and improve the overall quality and perception of vocational training. That surely has to be an aim to which we would all aspire.

Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills

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