Building a world-class skills training system is entirely within our grasp if it is properly supported and prioritised, says Carole Stott.

To say that 2016 was an eventful year is an understatement. There can scarcely be a person whose life will not be touched in some way by its momentous events. There is little that feels stable and people, businesses and sectors the world over are wondering what 2017 will bring and are trying to plan for the unknown and the unpredictable.

Last year was testing for FE. Many of us struggled to deal with issues such as English and maths requirements, an inspection regime that appears to take little account of the context in which we operate, area-based reviews requiring fundamental long-term strategic decisions in the midst of chronic uncertainty, the need to build partnerships and alliances requiring trust and cooperation in a context where people are feeling threatened and often suspicious, a new apprenticeship policy and system which is not yet fully formed but which will be a number one priority for many, and all of this in a context of continued austerity and funding challenges.

Not all of these challenges will disappear in 2017. Implementing the decisions of area-based reviews will bring fresh challenges, and alongside this we will see further development of the Skills Plan and technical and professional routes, continued devolution, and reforms in curriculum and higher education. So it is not surprising if people feel beleaguered.

Ours is not a downhearted sector

But ours is not a downhearted sector. We have an educational and social mission that drives us forward. Every day in our work we see the positive benefits and outcomes as people’s lives are genuinely transformed.

The recent changes in the political landscape in the UK have made the educational and social purpose of FE ever more important.

Recent voting in Europe and the USA reveals a growing sense of exclusion and inequality felt by many in our communities. The decision to leave the European Union will have many unknown consequences, but one thing is very clear. If our economy is to thrive as a free-trading nation outside of the EU, we must invest in skills.

If we really want a society that works for everyone then we have to invest in developing everyone’s talents and careers.

This is a global challenge but the responses and the solutions will need to emerge locally. Our colleges and our FE system are essential to this endeavour.

We have the knowledge and expertise to make this work. Colleges in particular are essential stakeholders in their local communities. They have the relationships, the understanding and the professional expertise to help in this shared endeavour. The importance of FE is perhaps more clearly understood now.

The importance of FE is perhaps more clearly understood now

But if this is to be achieved we need a renewed focus on world-class standards.

We have the wherewithal and the experience and expertise to deliver this.

Success at the recent EuroSkills and WorldSkills events, where the UK was placed seventh in both competitions, was a great start.

We can build from this: grow our expertise in training to world-class standards from this base so that these standards permeate our system. This is entirely within our grasp if it is properly supported and prioritised.

I have the great privilege and pleasure of meeting many of our WorldSkills competitors. They are, of course, highly skilled young people.

But I’m even more impressed by their other qualities: their clear focus on their end goal, their absolute determination, perseverance and ability to repeatedly overcome setbacks, their constant hard work and belief that they can learn more and do better.

What employer, what country would not want these qualities in their people?

Those of us working in further education also need to nurture these qualities and these characteristics.

If we do, and like these young people, develop and use our talents wisely, then we can play our part in building the education and skills system to support a thriving economy and society in a fast-changing world.

 

Carole Stott is chair of WorldSkills UK and the Association of Colleges