STEM Foundation

NEF in Science in Parliament - Invigorating STEM Vocational Education

This is an extract from the article. The full article can be found at: Science in Parliament Autumn 2010

Developing a forward thinking strategy

Our vocational education and training strategies tend to focus on the ‘here and now’ and in many cases are backward looking to what has appeared to work in the past, for instance apprenticeships. In addition, some of the new proposals such as the University Technical College are also confusing and lack contemporary thinking. Unfortunately, such initiatives force artificial relationships and structures that are not necessarily effective nor do they serve business and industry needs. Moreover, these initiatives tend to be unsustainable: it is not training for the sake of training that is required; it is training for a purpose. Policy and strategy has to address needs first: training requirements will naturally follow.

Colleges will need to be encouraged and supported (and even rewarded) to think smartly about their future economic needs in such areas as low carbon technologies and advanced manufacturing and to break away from the existing mould of embracing more and more beauty and therapy salons and catering restaurants!

Today, there are a number of contemporary approaches that re-position workplace learning and occupational competence in an effective way to be delivered in a just-in-time fashion at the point of need. Further education colleges can do much to help themselves and become more agile and responsive, by adopting a strategic approach to improve performance in planning and funding[i]. NEF suggests a four-step approach to change management (NEF Diamond[ii]):

1. Carry out an appraisal of internal capabilities, identifying weaknesses, and more importantly strengths

2.Map market trends, involving horizon scanning, to identify immediate and future requirements for skills

3.Formulate a strategy to re-focus, re-shape and re-position the college, making clear the purpose and focus of the new organisation

4.Implement the strategy and evaluate impact, so supporting efficient delivery of training truly appropriate to industry needs whilst driving technical innovation and exploiting capabilities.

In parallel, colleges can re-assure employers that their STEM training provision is of the appropriate quality and led by industry needs. Quality assurance schemes, such as NEF’s STEM Assured[iii], that assure the use of integrated cross-curricula STEM strategies in education and training, thereby enabling stronger collaboration between providers and employers and the delivery of innovative and multidisciplinary teaching and learning.

Furthermore, there is potentially a new role for advanced vocational education and technical education centres. In the last Science and Parliament magazine, Dr David Dent commented on the gap in the innovation market[iv]. Here is an opportunity for forward thinking colleges to transform into power-houses of market-led innovation, driving new prosperity and shaping new technologies. This could take the form of new polytechnic colleges that embrace applied and near market research.

Technical Colleges of the Future

Developing a Technical College of the Future will be different from what we have been used to: it will encompass different access points to learning and training, new learning spaces with a variety of delivery channels and mechanisms, and take on technical innovation and knowledge transfer capabilities. In all this, the learning and training organisation will need to adapt and adopt new thinking to sensitise learners, employers and higher education to engage and develop new economically viable areas.

Technical colleges can add real value to technical developments and innovation – through up-skilling and re-skilling based on best practice and a clear idea of emerging needs. The technical college of the future needs to grasp these fundamental changes: to see itself as the engine for horizon-scanning, partnerships with employers, the incubator for business innovation that is able to deliver skills for tomorrow’s world on time and in the right sectors. The wealth of the future depends on getting our vocational STEM education and training right so that a high-skilled, high value-added economy can develop.
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[i] NEF, Planning and Funding Cycles for the Further Education Sector, November 2009 (https://ikegroup.org/resources/Planning&FundingCyclesforFESector.pdf )

[ii] http://www.thenef.co.uk/diamond.asp

[iii] http://www.nefassured.org/sector-availability

[iv] Dent, D., A Gap in the Innovation Market, Science in Parliament, Vol 67 No 3, Summer 2010

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STEM > Innovation Driven Education