Fostering Excellence Through Employer Collaboration

We are excited to share an insightful contribution from our Insight and Innovation Partner, Jo Turbitt, featured in Breaking down barriers to opportunity through skills excellence, the latest report by WorldSkills UK, in partnership with NCFE. This publication delves into the true meaning of skills excellence, offering diverse and thought-provoking perspectives from experts across the sector.

Fostering Excellence Through Employer Collaboration

Jo Turbitt, Insight and Innovation Partner, CDN

In today’s rapidly-evolving job market, collaboration between further education institutions and employers has become paramount in ensuring the success of both students and businesses. The intersection of curriculum and industry holds the potential to cultivate a talent pool that not only meets the immediate needs of employers but also thrives in the face of future challenges. Bridging the gap between academic learning and real-world skills is essential in preparing students for the challenges of the workforce.

From curriculum development to experiential learning opportunities, fostering a seamless integration of education and industry needs can help us cultivate a workforce that is well-equipped to meet the demands of the modern professional landscape. I’d like to use this essay to explore key ideas that can support and enhance collaboration between further education and employers, with the aim of creating a symbiotic relationship that benefits all stakeholders involved.

As we delve into the characteristics of effective collaboration, it becomes evident that a shared vision and proactive engagement are paramount. By bridging the gap between education and industry demands, we pave the way for a more seamless transition from learning to employment. Current activity at the Colleges Development Network in this space includes running networks where curriculum staff from different colleges, industry and supporting organisations come together to discuss ideas and opportunities for developing projects that create synergy around learning and teaching. Agency and confidence are key here, along with a willingness from all parties to try something new. These meetings may seem like a run-of-the-mill activity, but for many the time and discussions can spark, ignite and illuminate an innovative project that wouldn’t be possible without the input and collaboration from an industry partner (which wouldn’t have come about if they hadn’t shared the space).

It is essential to recognise that the collaborative relationship between further education and employers is not a one-size-fitsall approach. Contexts, regional variations and industry-specific requirements must be carefully considered to tailor collaboration strategies that are both effective and sustainable. By acknowledging the unique needs of each partnership, we develop opportunities to surpass traditional boundaries, creating a system where education and industry seamlessly converge for the benefit of all involved.

When considering the key ingredients for successful collaboration between FE and employers, I’m reminded of the ‘Braintrust’ approach that Pixar uses within its creative process to ensure that films are being developed with the utmost creative potential. Braintrusts are groups of people all with invested interest in a specific project
– in the case of Pixar, this means a group of trusted colleagues which meets periodically to review the progress of a Pixar film that is in development. The whole point of
the exercise is that the participants bring a variety of perspectives to the table; it’s imperative that there is trust but, over and above the role of candour, honesty is key.
With this comes a willingness to take risks supported by the psychological safety to try out new things, knowing that the benefits of doing so will outweigh any consequences.

When we have the support and trust of those we’re working with, we are more inclined to try out new ideas. In terms of FE and employers collaborating, these principles would support a synergetic partnership leading to co-creation, with stakeholders becoming investors and adaptive learning paths ensuring lifelong learning does what it says on the tin.

What follows are a few suggestions that could potentially be feasible to implement for the next academic year or further into the future, and which are based on the Braintrust model of collaboration between education providers and industry. While they are speculative and reliant on collaborative methods, they could be used as frameworks to nudge comfort zones, implement changes or help support discussions of what could be possible. At the heart of each idea lies the rationale that each party (the student, the college and the employer) gains significantly and the benefits are universal.

What if we had…

Fully co-created curriculums

Colleges and employers would collaborate to create curriculum courses, with the process going beyond simple awareness and recognition of what the other does. Skills, capacities and capabilities would be fully embedded into the experiences that are holistically constructed by education and industry. Could apprenticeships, for instance, be elevated through this mindset? Is this approach feasible?

Employer stakeholders as active participants

Course assessors from the education sector would be paired with representatives from industry who would carry out the role of second marker. As a result, feedback for learners would be from both angles, the ‘physical portfolio’ would be instant. Would this help to bridge the gap between training and industry? Would it help boost learners’ confidence and alleviate the nerves of job interviews?

Adaptive, flexible learning paths

There are no longer ‘jobs for life’; being able to morph or ‘regenerate’ yourself professionally is a skillset in itself. If we created truly flexible pathways, qualifications would embed and promote opportunities to develop skills beyond the title of a course. As an education system, we’re still fixated on needing the wording of a course to inform us and our employers that we can do something specific, rather than recognising that our capacities and capabilities are valuable in other fields of work. Could a collaborative model provide these learning paths and, with it, opportunities for growth?

Genuinely ‘lifelong’ learning

Rather than categorising professions and industries as either ‘forgotten vocations’ or ‘jobs for the future’, a radical new approach would seek to create intergenerational learning across the full spectrum of career paths. It is often assumed that ‘dying’ careers, such as those in the manufacturing industry, are destined to be the inevitable
victims of automation or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But what if learning, skills and insights gained from these endangered vocations could be shared at the same time as 21st century skills are being learned? Could the experience and wisdom of the older generation be exchanged with the digital nous of the young generation?

These suggestions may give you some food for thought. But what can we do to start making these ambitions a reality? What conversations could we start to have? Are there ideas which you’ve long been sitting on and you’re now starting to think, “Let’s give this a go”?

Just maybe now is the time to do it. We’ll never know unless we try – and a collaborative approach might help make it happen.

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