In times like these, it’s very easy to feel angry or despondent or both all at once along with a dash of murderous intent. A recent talk at College as part of our transformational leaders programme served to counteract these feelings somewhat. The work of Paul Grainger, from the Institute of Education, went a great deal of the way towards injecting some well-needed positivity.
We are a sector that, if you know us at all, do things because they’re right and not because they’re profitable. This is made more challenging when faced with cuts to funding year after year. Doing more for less leads to surviving rather than thriving. The pressure to make money does not sit comfortably with improving the lives of learners and providing opportunities where all other doors have been closed.
Paul asserted that government needs to start listening to the sector, in order to avoid the axing of FE Colleges:
‘FE has the capacity to innovate industry. If you want economic regeneration then you have to work with the skills sector because that’s where the expertise is.’
Clear line of sight to work
Whilst we’re waiting for the government to recognise this, there are things that we must still, somehow, continue to strive for and work towards:
Providing a clear line of sight to work through realistic work environments where failure is allowed and learning can take place. We shouldn’t rely upon qualifications as awarding bodies are unable to adapt quickly enough to the needs of changing industries. Standards should be set locally, alongside employers, instead.
Hull College have focused on renewables over the last few years, in advance of the Siemens announcement about jobs in the local area, and the College is now well placed to work with Siemens in providing the skilled workforce Siemens require. They remained ahead of the game by ensuring the understood the local community and economy and future gazed the opportunities ahead for their learners by working with green sector employers.
With or without funding cuts, it is this kind of work that will allow the skills sector to maintain relevance and thrive.
We must therefore understand ourselves within the local social, cultural and economic context. Working alongside schools becomes vital. How that can be achieved when funding makes us all so competitive will be no mean feat.
One particular challenge is posed by all of this though. In working more closely with employers to meet the needs of the sector, there is a heightened requirement for industry standard kit. Where will the funding come from? Well, if our connections with employers can be strong enough then they will gain enough faith in what we can deliver that they may provide the funding themselves. On a recent visit to Coleg Sir Gar, their engineering corridors lined with the logos of employers and their industry standard kit would appear to confirm this notion.
What do business leaders have to say?
In the changing climate of higher pressures and business targets, Paul Grainger and his team conducted some research with business leaders to see what could be learnt from them about leading successfully in volatile times. The findings were unsurprising: they experienced much of the same challenges we face.
There is no one size fits all. There is no magic bullet to solve challenges.
Values are just as vital as vision in making progress. The FE value of the refusal to give up on anybody may be a challenge to uphold but it’s one worth sticking with.
Leadership and distributed accountability are required throughout the organisation for success to be achieved.
What is the role of Middle leaders?
- Engaging staff in change
- Securing good performance
- Generating creative and adaptable solutions
But, where they’re not supported properly by the organisation then their attempts will fail.
Reading College allows for us to get together and share good practice and problem solve together on a weekly basis. We are luck to have such an opportunity.
Some key messages
Scan the horizon so that the organisation can be positioned to respond.
Establish and nurture industry links- these provide our future. Time must be provided for this to occur- and it shouldn’t just be our leadership teams out and about.
Simply following the money is not a way to form a business model. The banks did this- look where they ended up- with dissatisfied customers.
We must recognise when to act boldly.
Always focus on the client- If we lose sight of the learners then we fail completely.
Simply following the policies and politics is wrong too. We are not here to serve as government agents. We are here to serve our learners.
In all the excitement of technology, we must not forget that it presents new pressures for us to respond to, learn about and navigate. We have to re-calibrate our leadership approaches when we have technology at our disposal.
We have to develop a narrative that challenges the despairing message of ‘bums on seats.’
We need to remind staff why we’re doing what we’re doing as in the new world, it won’t be obvious, especially if actions taken aren’t directly and explicitly linked back to the learners
We should be hiring for values rather than competencies. Developing and nurturing talent must be a priority so that we have all the key people to move the organisation forwards into a thriving state.
We must be developing subject expertise alongside pedagogic excellence.
A key challenge we face is that we’re all encouraged to take risks and the current climate demands that of us yet we’re clobbered when these risks ‘fail’.
This poster may help to remind you daily of the key messages that you have duty to not lose sight of:
So, will 2015 be the year for a U-Turn in vocational education? Paul would likely suggest it will be and hopefully for all the right reasons. Even writing all of this out now gives me goosebumps about the exciting potential future that awaits us. Just as long as the cuts don’t result in all of our greatest people dissolving before our eyes before the bright future can be achieved. I recall the slightly saddened look on Paul’s face as he exited the room for us to return to talking about RAG rating. We must challenge the status quo and start having discussions about the actions that can have the real impact on the success of our learners instead.
Paul Grainger said that he had a meeting with the PM booked for June. I am waiting with baited breath because if anyone can give the sector the voice it needs, it’s Paul. Perhaps he can succeed in getting the government to suck some of (because I’m not naive enough to suggest ‘all’) the volatility out of the sector.
So. Leaders. Have you been paying attention? This volatile situation needs you at your very best because anything less is highly likely to result in disaster, so bring it on! Where will your poster be going?