In order to deliver the skilled workers our economy needs, education and industry need to forge closer links, says Paul Kessell-Holland
The rapid pace of change in technical education shows no signs of slowing. There has been an endless succession of commissions, reports, recommendations and plans, with the over-arching theme being ‘we need more engineers/scientists/technicians but where will these people come from?’
New technical workers are a fairly straightforward economic need, but there are a range of challenges inherent in fulfilling it. We clearly require a greater number of skilled staff in a range of industrial and technical disciplines, but this means we need to get more young people interested in following a career in these fields, and to retrain people established in other areas of employment. And this means we need to provide them with a robust, relevant and comprehensive technical education.
Education providers are, in the main, reporting that recruitment to science engineering and technology courses is growing – the lure of well-paid jobs with a career path as well as a resurgence of interest in industry and manufacturing is persuading more young people to train. Unfortunately this is only exacerbating a separate problem – where do the teachers come from?
Professionalising teaching is an important aim
Traditionally many of the teaching staff at colleges have come from industry, and this is one of the great powers of the technical and vocational training sector: it means relevant and up-to-date knowledge in the classroom, and a real understanding of the world of work. However, this steady stream of career changers is not enough to meet demand any longer, and we need to begin to grow wider and deeper recruitment plans if we are to meet demand. The Education and Training Foundation is working with a range of organisations on a number of pilot programmes to see how best to establish a larger pool of technical teaching talent and source new staff.
Crucially, these programmes need to do more than simply supporting the recruitment of individuals. For example, professional engineers are experts in their field; they understand only too well the need to remain up to date in their chosen discipline. Education is no different, and without a strong understanding of educational practice many new entrants to the profession struggle to get across their depth of knowledge in their subject.
Others may have substantial academic and theoretical knowledge but lack the key industrial experience that makes their teaching come alive and feel relevant for learners. This is why in all our teacher recruitment programmes we combine initial teacher training to an appropriate level with a wider experience of industrial updating or work shadowing, to ensure everything in the classroom reflects the world of work wherever possible. By building and maintaining local partnerships with industry the ETF is working to ensure every young person studying technical disciplines does so with teachers who know their subject, and know how to teach it in equal measure.
Professionalising teaching is an important aim. The professional standards for teachers and trainers underpin all our work, providing a common language for education professionals to discuss what they do in the classroom. The Society for Education and Training is a constantly growing professional body which supports this agenda on a whole career basis. Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills provide a real pinnacle achievement for technical teaching staff wanting to demonstrate real professional skill.
Behind all this activity lies a simple equation: the more professional the teaching workforce, the better the teaching. The better the teaching, the better the outcomes for learners. The more success our learners experience, the more will remain in education and the higher their achievements. The economy needs these young people, and the economy needs their teachers to be ready and well equipped for the challenges to come.
Paul Kessell-Holland is head of partnerships at the Education and Training Foundation