Institutes of Technology

Collaboration is key to ensuring teaching and learning meet the needs of employers

Genuine partnerships that properly value teaching and learning can rise to the challenge of our skills shortages, write Rosa Wells

Genuine partnerships that properly value teaching and learning can rise to the challenge of our skills shortages, write Rosa Wells

8 Jul 2023, 5:00

It can be difficult to find the time to take a look at what is happening outside of your classroom, lab, or workshop. However, collaboration, when well planned, can make a huge difference in how we teach.

I moved into FE teaching following a career in aerospace manufacturing and knew immediately that I’d found the right job for me. It gave me the opportunity to share my passion for engineering with a diverse group of learners, and support them into exciting careers. It was – and still is hugely rewarding.

I have been fortunate to experience diverse teaching across the country at all levels and in different roles. I began at Fareham College and went on from there to Warwickshire College and then to north east Scotland, before moving to Birmingham, where I have been for ten years – first at Solihull College & University Centre, and now at University College Birmingham.

I have taught core skills maths, worked within a quality team and then as a curriculum manager. More recently, I’ve managed employer engagement and partnerships, working closely with our apprenticeship team. In this role, I’ve had the opportunity to explore ways in which collaboration can support teachers’ professional development.

One of the challenges with teaching in further education is the lack of ‘off-the-shelf’ resources to support teaching. This means that we are all busy creating our own resources, which can mean less time to think about innovative delivery. This is particularly challenging for very specialist subjects, who also have fewer opportunities to collaborate internally.

In 2017, I joined a consortium of three colleges, four universities and several engineering employers to develop a proposal for one of England’s first institutes of technology. We were awarded a license to operate as an Institute of Technology (IoT) in 2019, with the objective of increasing level four and five provision to support the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector in Greater Birmingham and Solihull. I was appointed to lead the new company and the collaborative work between educational institutions and employers.

It was a key priority for me to ensure that the collaboration was effective at all levels so that our lecturers, teachers, and technicians would benefit from working more closely with neighbouring colleges, universities and employers.

Specialist subjects have fewer opportunities to collaborate

With DfE funding, we invested in a ‘Learning Factory’ in Birmingham City Centre, available to engineering students across the consortium. We’ve been able to invest in industry-standard software and CPD, and our academic teams benefit from collaborative training sessions.

All partners can access a digital twin of the Learning Factory too, meaning that engineering and digital students can simulate the factory environment at their own campus before travelling to test their designs.

Recruiting teachers familiar with these specialist industry requirements can be difficult, but we invest centrally in experts who can train and update our college teams, ensuring we meet employer requirements. Our teachers value this new academic network and our learners benefit.

The IoT was also seeking ways in which collaboration could enhance outreach activities to encourage more female engineering students and learners from diverse backgrounds with different experiences and non-traditional qualifications. I was honoured to be awarded an ETF-Royal Commission Technical Teaching Fellowship to support this research, and that award has allowed me to evaluate what works well and share my experiences.

As a result, the IoT was able to attract additional funding to launch a new regional digital platform The Hub – showcasing engineering careers in education.

As well as supporting regional partnerships in responding to employer requirements, my position at an IoT has provided me with broader influence, as vice-chair of the National Network of Institutes of Technology.

The launch of new engineering and construction departments at University College Birmingham is also a direct response to the regional and national skills gaps that collaborative activity has identified. The effect of all this is that our learners are developing the skills and behaviours identified by industry.

As satisfying as all this has been personally and for colleagues, it is that, more than anything, that underscores how incredibly important collaboration is.

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