By Alice Eardley & Alex Warner of Activate Learning, convenors of the Employer Engagement working group at #ReimagineFE19
In a keynote presentation delivered at last year’s 5th International Conference on Employer Engagement, Kevin Orr, Professor of Work and Learning at the University of Huddersfield, laid down a significant challenge to the Further Education sector, asserting that:
“We need to reclaim the importance of pedagogy” (Orr, 2018).
Building on the work of, among others, Bill Lucas, Ellen Spencer and Guy Claxton, Orr argued for renewed vigor in our thinking not just about what we teach but how we teach it (Lucas et al., 2012). In this context,“the relationship between employment experience and experience in colleges or in other educational institutions is … crucial” (Orr, 2018). For students, encounters with the workplace and with employers are an essential element of vocational education – but as educators we need to have a much stronger understanding of how, from a pedagogical perspective, we can manage these encounters to ensure the best outcomes for students.
Orr was responding, in part, to the Post-16 Skills Plan, published in 2016, which puts employers at the forefront of vocational education. In setting out their principles for a reformed skills system the authors state that “Firstly, and most importantly, employers must play a leading role” (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2016), p. 12). They go on to add that “Employers, working with expert education professionals, need to set the standards; they must define the skills, knowledge and behaviours required for skilled employment”. The Skills Report is very clear that robust skills education results from a partnership between employers and educators. It is also clear in its ambitions for the outcomes of this reformed system, with a holistic emphasis on skills, knowledge, and behaviour. What it doesn’t tell us, however, is the best method for using that partnership to deliver the desired outcomes. We are given a framework that opens up opportunities for us to use employer-educator partnerships to develop cutting-edge approaches to skills education and it is up to us to decide what we want to do with those opportunities.
In addition, however, we also need to think carefully about the outcomes we want employer-educator partnerships to have for young people. The aim of the Skills Plan is to put in place an education system capable of producing “highly skilled people, trained effectively, to grow the economy and raise productivity”, and to “ensure prosperity and security for individuals” (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2016), p. 7). It envisions a skilled workforce capable of securing its own economic comfort and security and also that of the nation as a whole. While these economic aims are important, they are often not, and, arguably, should not be, the sole purpose of education. There is compelling evidence that, as organisations such as Education and Employers, for example, have demonstrated, employer-educator partnerships can benefit students in a range of ways, many of which may support their development as future employees but which also have far broader personal and social implications (Jones et al., 2016). Research that we have undertaken at Activate Learning colleges suggests that encounters with employers can have a direct impact on how students perceive their own agency and their capacity to have a positive impact on the world beyond the sphere of work (Eardley and Warner, 2019). When developing our ideas around employer-engaged pedagogy, therefore, we need to be mindful of the kinds of outcomes we want to achieve, and this may involve looking beyond immediate economic impact.
The upshot of all of this is that we know that working partnerships between employers and educators are vitally important. If we succeed in getting them right they can bring about tremendous benefits both for individuals and for society as a whole. This applies to economic security and development but also to much broader human and social factors. There isn’t, however, much clear information about what “getting them right” means. The aim of the Employer Engagement session at the #ReimagineFE19 conference on July 2 at Birmingham City University is, therefore, to start defining some pedagogic principles. To do this, we will be addressing a series of questions. What outcomes do we want to secure for students? What do we need to do in the classroom and in the workplace to achieve this? How do we plan for continuity (or productive discontinuity in Orr’s framework) between educational institutions and employment experience? We welcome everyone (educator or employer) with an interest in sharing their experience and ideas in order to reclaim the importance of pedagogy in FE settings.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education. (2016). Post-16 Skills Plan. [online] Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-16-skills-plan-and-independent-report-on-technical-education [Accessed 13 June 2019].
Eardley, A., and Warner, A. (2019). Developing a Two-Way Street Partnership Between College and Industry. [online] Education and Training Foundation. Available at: https://www.et-foundation.co.uk/blog/developing-a-two-way-street-partnership-between-college-and-industry/ [Accessed 13 June 2019].
Jones, S., Mann, A. and Morris, K. (2016). The ‘Employer Engagement Cycle’ in Secondary Education: analysing the testimonies of young British adults. Journal of Education and Work, 29(7), pp. 834-856. Available at: https://www.educationandemployers.org/research/the-employer-engagement-cycle-in-secondary-education-analysing-the-testimonies-of-young-british-adults/ [Accessed 13 June 2019].
Lucas, B., Spencer, E. and Claxton, G. (2012). How to Teach Vocational Education: A Theory of Vocational Pedagogy. [online] City and Guilds Skills Development. Available at: https://www.educationinnovations.org/sites/default/files/How-to-teach-vocational-education.pdf [Accessed 13 June 2019].
Orr, K. (2018). Keynote presentation delivered at the 5th International Conference on Employer Engagement. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iidVb-IkKbs [Accessed 13 June 2019].