Friday, 21 April 2017

The importance of 'off the job' apprenticeship training

Quality, not quantity should be the watchword of all technical and vocational training. There's good reason for this, but before I tell you why, let me explain one of the current points of contention within the sector.

Much has been made over recent apprenticeship reforms, with our Government going all guns blazing to deliver on their ambitious target of three million new apprentices by 2020.

With that approach lies a real danger, that these will not be the quality apprenticeships we all hoped for. One sticking point, that some are not fond of is the requirement for off the job training. Many providers have taken aim at the Government’s policy of ensuring apprentices receive off the job training which accounts for “20 per cent of the apprentice’s contracted employment hours across the whole apprenticeship.”

Our College has always prided itself on delivering really high quality, meaningful apprenticeships. From ensuring all apprentices receive a meaningful wage, to rigorously vetting businesses where we will place an apprentice, our belief is an apprenticeship should never be viewed as a simple, cost effective way of increasing staffing resources. It is just those beliefs which have helped our College’s apprenticeship team receive an ‘Outstanding’ grading by Ofsted. To make an apprenticeship meaningful, I believe there needs to be a substantial amount of off the job training, with apprentices visiting their college or other training provider, and using that time to develop the deeper skillset which they won’t learn while on the job.

In my years as a College Principal, I have spoken to many apprentices, and there’s little doubt they have all found their time at the College beneficial. It helps to crystallize their learning, giving them confidence that they are developing the right skills, while adding to the work based education they are receiving. It also gives them scope to develop their functional skills if required, ensuring that when they qualify, they are job-ready.

Without that all important off the job training, we are creating an environment where the currency of an apprenticeship can be devalued. An environment in which the true hallmarks of a quality apprenticeship no longer exist, and one where poor quality apprenticeships, which lack checks, balances and additional learning, can thrive.

I genuinely believe apprenticeships are an amazing way for employees to learn the real everyday tradecraft of their sector, but to contemplate removing that essential ‘day at College’ would do nothing but diminish quality. It may provide low quality training providers with a more profitable business model, but it’ll do nothing to promote technical and vocational excellence in the UK. And my view is that despite our College being a business, we are also a public servant. If we aren’t delivering a high quality product which benefits our apprentices, our communities and our employers, then we simply aren’t doing our job. To remove off the job training would, in my view, mean just that. Our apprentices do not deserve that, and nor do the communities we serve or the employers we work with.

The removal of this key time, would also mean fewer skills learned by the apprentice. There are a whole range of soft skills which are taught during time at College. In an era where employees move fluidly between jobs – with young people expected to have an average of nine through their working lives – these soft skills are gaining in importance. It is also key when considering that the average worker will also have one complete career change. Developing these apprentices so that they are able to be competitive in this type of environment is key to their success.

So rather than looking to fillet off the training to bump up profits, we should all be looking to take the opportunity to boost the skills of our apprentices, and create some of the finest technical and vocational tradespeople to ensure we are contributing to the prosperity of our country as we move forward.

So let me bring you back to that initial statement, that quality, not quantity, is what really matters. Delivering for the future of the UK really will require quality. Ensuring that our workforce can be competitive is critical to our future economic prosperity. If we are unable to do this, because we’ve chosen to cut corners, or provide poor quality training, it will do nothing but harm our country. That’s why I’m passionate about ensuring we get the opportunity to deliver training that is the highest possible quality for every single student and apprentice we have. And that is why we must retain off the job training as we move forward.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Guest blogging for a fantastic social action campaign

I recently got the opportunity to write a guest blog for the #iwill campaign. Anyone's who has read this blog before will know I'm passionate about social action at our Colleges, so I jumped at the chance. For any of you who may have missed the blog, I have posted it below. If you want to keep up to date with news from the #iwill campaign, make sure you sign up to their newsletter here.

How EKC's most recent Ofsted has really given the spotlight to youth social action

There’s little doubt of the positive impact that social action has on young people’s lives. It develops them as individuals, gives them greater resilience, inspires them and helps build a bridge into their local communities.

This is something I’ve become increasingly passionate about during my time as Principal of East Kent College and our social action programme has recently been given a spotlight by none other than the Government watchdog, Ofsted, in its recent inspection of the College.

Our College delivers social action during our three Community Days each year. These days enable the students to take part in an activity which enhances their communities, and the lives of those around them. They also give the students a chance to do something meaningful that also uses the specialist technical, vocational skills they are developing as part of their course. I always give the example of some of our construction students, who, seeing a damaged wall in the community rebuilt it. That developed their skills, while also leaving a lasting legacy in the community, which is far better than them just knocking down something they built in their workshop.

Building Services students helped do up a local charity centre
And it’s just this type of social action which Ofsted praised in their recent inspection report. The report highlighted that the students work, alongside professionals, helped them practise their vocational and team-working skills in a real world environment, while also allowing them to take pride in enhancing the lives of others in the heart of their communities. It brings the students into the community, and allows them to take ownership of a little part of it. I know that it builds pride as well, having seen students showing off their work to family and friends.

Hair and beauty students ran a pamper day for community members recently
It was a wonderful feeling for the whole College to have social action highlighted in the inspection report, and fantastic to see recognition of the value of social action for our students from Ofsted. It is this kind of promotion of social action which will mean more College leadership teams are willing to say #iwill and develop opportunities like these for their students, benefiting not just the learners, but also their communities for years to come.