Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The true value of social media in a connected world

The world is more connected than it has ever been before, with social media leading the charge in real-time communications. With a whopping 236 million monthly active users on Twitter, and a massive 1.59 billion monthly active users on Facebook, the numbers are undoubtedly impressive. And while you might assume that a lot of the messages, tweets and wall posts are little more than noise, all of the tools which are now at our disposal mean we can promote and celebrate what we do more than ever before. It gives us an unrivaled opportunity to promote our message to a truly huge audience.

Recently I was honoured by Jisc – which supports the post-16 education sector in all things digital – as one of the FE sector’s top social media practitioners in the country. It’s certainly something to celebrate, as greater amounts of our lives are now being lived online and the world of social media has become a key channel to influence, converse and broadcast.

This week it has been National Apprenticeship Week 2016. It has also been the first time I’ve ever taken part in what is colloquially known as a ‘tweetathon’ – a concentrated burst of tweets by different individuals and organisations on a specific topic – normally using a hashtag to indicate that topic. The tweetathon – organised by Nestle UK – was to celebrate skills training, apprentices, and the contribution they have to UK productivity and business.

The tweetathon brought together a wide variety of individuals and organisations promoting National Apprenticeship Week
The online event proved valuable in pushing the message far and wide to a very large audience. A total of 37 Twitter users took part, managing to reach over 168,000 different accounts. That generated a huge 450,412 tweet impressions, ensuring that apprenticeships at East Kent College got great promotion.

But social media isn’t just about promotion – it’s also about celebration and it’s a tool I often use to congratulate staff and students at the College. Many of our competition successes are documented on social media with results rolling out in real-time, allowing other members of the College to know what’s happening at every moment. East Kent College even created a dedicated Twitter feed, and hashtag, to live tweet all competitions our students attend.

And we don’t stop at just Twitter as a platform. At last year’s World Skills UK final, our creative students at The Edge produced a video which documented the journey of the College’s competitors. It was uploaded to YouTube after the competition, and continues to pay tribute to the efforts of the staff and students who worked so hard to get to the finals. While much of the content which is viewed and posted on social media bears only a fleeting interest, that video and those tweets are enduring for those who took part in that competition, and remain as a record of their hard work.

And that, for me, is one of the most important reasons to use social media – it’s an unparalleled platform to celebrate what our College does well, whether that be delivering fantastic apprenticeships, or showcasing real tradecraft at World Skills. And that is exactly why I’ll continue to be an advocate for the world of social media long into the future.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Improving outcomes – and not just for students

As the Principal of a college which spans four distinct campuses, stretching across a large portion of Kent's coastline, improving the outcomes for our thousands of learners is our business.

But in order to do that, and to really ensure the College's students get the highest quality education I need each and every staff member to also be working hard. We recently celebrated our annual Star Awards, which showcases the diligence of our staff, highlighting individuals who have consistently gone above and beyond in order to better our students. It is what we all do, consistently, because it is what we are all passionate about. So it really hurts me to see that recent statements from the University and College Union (UCU) are branding college leaders like myself, as people who have failed to back their staff, or lobby to ensure the best outcomes for them.

Our staff are our stars
So let me tell you a quick tale about a job interview I recently held. When the candidate asked me what scope there was to develop their career, I was proud to have an answer which promoted my personal and professional belief that staff - or human capital in business-speak - are our greatest resource. ‎Telling that interviewee – who eventually became a member of staff with us – that we would back him, and invest in his development sums up what East Kent College, and many other colleges across the country are all about. Namely improving people, whether they be staff, or student.

After all, it is the collective staff passion which creates the environment that enables our students to succeed, and while I have a guiding hand on the tiller, it wouldn't be possible without their hard work and dedication. In return, I dedicate myself to ensuring our staff have the best possible outcomes, whether that is through workplace training opportunities or being a considerate and flexible employer.

Now, with all that I have said so far allow me repeat a point which is key; my personal belief is that our staff are our greatest asset.

I'm committed to always fighting for the best possible outcome for the College's staff members
With that in mind, understand that I will always fight for the best possible outcome for staff, and will lobby and work tirelessly to ensure they are well looked after. The dedication I give to their cause is matched by the dedication they give to our learners.

So perhaps before other off-the-cuff statements about college leaders being unwilling to fight for their staff are made, those who make the comments should visit colleges up and down the land, meeting with principals like myself, staff members who are joining, and those who have been part of our colleges for some time. We are, after all, all on the same side and with the same fundamental goal; to get the best possible outcome for FE, for our students, for our communities and for our staff. I hope that everyone keeps that in mind.