UKCES view of employer needs

Moira McKerracher- Deputy Director, UK Commission for Employment and Skills

Moira will share data from their recent Employer Perspectives Report 2014 from 18,000 businesses providing detailed insight into:

1 What employers think of the skills system
2. How and why they behave in the way they do in terms of recruitment and training.

Employers most look for relevant work experience, maths and english GCSE and then academic qualifications. Clearly they are all important but prioritise experience.

Only 18% of 314,000 employers reached out to schools, colleges and universities to inspire people to come into their business/industry. The majority (55%) engaged with schools, 45% colleges and 36% universities, some engaging across all three.

What are employers looking for in training?

Who does the training?

69% of organisations had provided training for staff
58% internal provision
11% public providers only
5% universities (down from 8% in 2012)

FE and HE is losing market share to private and internal providers. 51% believed they wholly funded their training at HE institutions.

Biggest reason for using FE and HE

The biggest reason is relevant courses which conversely is also the biggest barrier for not using FE and HE providers. Cost/value for money is not a big barrier i.e. employers will pay for the right provision.

Forging Futures Report

Moira references the Forging Futures report from UKCES – I know this report well, some great examples of employer and university collaboration.

Some great top tips in this report on how to make collaboration work.

Moira finished off the session talking about the challenges facing young people getting into the labour market. A huge problem are that needs to be addressed.

Final report recommended by UKCES 5 priorities for Action. The report was launched this week and the five priorities are:

The report sets out five priorities for action over the next twenty years:

1. Employers need to lead the charge Employers should lead on skills
development and government should enable them to do so, by encouraging greater collaboration between businesses, unions and the workforce in regions, sectors and across supply chains.

2. Increased productivity equals career progression Improving workplace productivity is the route to pay and prosperity including better management, better job design and increased employee engagement.

3. We need more quality ‘earning and learning’ routes like apprenticeships. They should be a normal career pathway for many more young people, and a normal way for businesses to recruit and develop their workforce.

4. Bridge the gap between education and work Education and employers should be better connected to prepare people for work. Work experience should become an integral part of education for all young people.

5. Real results, not exam results Success should be measured by a wide set of outcomes, including jobs and progression, not just qualifications.

Lots to think about on this one, may need another Blog.


Employer as Customers of HE- Designing and delivering what the customer wants

Terry Tucker- Director of Learning and Organisational Devlopment-Barchester Healthcare and Chair of the Nursing Apprenticeship Trailblazer

Terry is representing the employer voice today and sharing her experience of workforce development at Barchester. Barchester are a provider of care homes and have 17,000 staff.

Terry developed the Barchester Business School in-house because providers couldn’t meet their demands. They offer mandatory and legislative programmes, catering and hospitality as well as nursing and care qualifications. Most of the provision is at levels 2-3 and meets the needs of the care industry, however some of the provision for Leadership extends to Masters programmes.

It is great to hear from an employer on top of their skills needs and working with various providers to deliver a comprehensive career path. The staff turnover at Barchester is 23% which is well below the national industry average of 46%, they attribute this to the fact that 10% of staff are always on a programme and this reduces staff turnover i.e. a great return on investment. However, the real measure of success is on the benefit to the care of their residents.

The old NVQ’s were unworkable for the business with irrelevant content, therefore they needed to take control of the provision. In all of their provision they try to combine work-based learning, technical skills and academic rigour.

One programme designed with a university has taken 2 years to get validated, unfortunately this not uncommon. Terry told the audience that they need universities to be more responsive, specifically they would like:

-a reliable contact
-a quick response and for contacts having authority to make decisions
-universities to not be so committed to standard academic calendar

Higher Apprenticeship Trailblazer in Nursing

Apparently this is a controversial area and one that is fraught with complexity. Terry is chairing the Nursing Trailblazer and advocating HA as a route through, there is a current block in how universities recognise the level 2 & 3 qualifications as a route into degree nursing. At the minute nursing degrees are in high demand and the only route recognised by NMC (Nursing Midwifery Council). As of yesterday the NMC have decided not to support this route, this route SHOULD NOT be seen as a failed route and should have parity of esteem. There is a belief that this is a misunderstanding and is not dumbing down the profession as it still has to meet the sector standard.

The sessions this morning outlined the structural issues with vocational routes being recognised as a valid career pathway and now we have an example of that in action.

Keep up the good work Terry and stay positive!

Priorities and Policies for HE-David Harbourne

UVAC 2014

David Harbourne, Director of Policy and Research, Edge Foundation

We shall not survive in this world if we in Britain alone down-grade the non-university professional and technical sector. No other country in the western world does so… Let us now move away from our snobbish caste-ridden hierarchical obsession with university status.

Anthony Crosland, April 1965

David emphasised that the quote, whilst 50 years old, is still as relevant today, we haven’t found a model that is equal.

In 2012 participation in higher education reached 49.5%, however growth in HE has been uneven. Humanities and business have increased by 70%+ in the last 10 years.

Degrees no longer guarantee good jobs, for example 30 months after graduation 35% of students from the Creative Arts and Law degrees were in non-graduate jobs. Interestingly approximately 15% studying engineering were not in graduate jobs. Overall there has been an increase of 5% since 2001 in non-graduate jobs (December 2011).

Greg Clark, Higher Education Minister believes there is no problem with the expansion of students going to University and we shouldn’t be excluding people.

Vince Cable has a different view and earlier this year outlined the need for a twin track approach whereby FE and the sub-degree routes get equal status. This is particularly important for HNC’s, HND’s, Higher Apprenticeships and Foundation Degrees. Vince’s vision is to have a series of National Colleges in key sectors such as rail, engineering and IT.

David believes this is a nice idea but underdeveloped and lacking detail on implementation. Similarly Liam Byrne’s idea of technical degrees part funded by government and a ‘earn while you learn’ proposal lacks details and sounds very similar to Higher Apprenticeships.

UKCES view is that FE colleges need to fill the gap to leverage higher level technical education. The OECD report (November 2014) reviewed technical and vocational degrees across 39 countries and the UK has approximately 10% studying technical/vocational degrees, by comparison Canada and Ireland has 33% and 30% respectively (Yay).

The call to action from David was that the politicians need to move beyond the rhetoric and look at long term plans for changing the nature of technical and vocational degrees in the UK.

In summary

The people in the room know much of what David shared with us, however the constant politicisation of higher-level learning means that there is no consistency and long-term strategy. There are too many changes which confuses employers , potential learners and parents.

David finished by adding that the tipping point will be when middle class parents realise that a traditional university route is not delivering and will start voting with their feet.

Scotland is more advanced than England in how it approaches skills and whilst not perfect they are much more committed to a longer term strategy.

An interesting first session but no definitive answers on how we make the shift.

Priorities and Policies for HE- Andy Westwood

UVAC 2014

Andy Westwood- Guild HE

Andy opened the session with a question “What might happen in 2015”? I was disappointed that he wasn’t predicting an upturn in fortune for my beloved Liverpool FC. Instead he highlighted six challenges for HE institutions from 2015-2020.

1. Political decisions about UG fees and student numbers
2. Immigration and student visas (there is no escaping the debate)
3. Research funding and the REF results
4. Capital funding
5. Specialist ‘high cost’ and workplace funds
6. Increasing competition (and demographic squeeze)

55% of the working population (approx. £20m) have a level 3 qualification, this is a huge population to progress to university. We should keep that in mind when looking at the demographic shift.

Andy guessed that by the end of the next parliament higher education in Scotland, Wales, N.Ireland and England will look considerably different.

Skills and human capital are the best bet to increase economic productivity and growth for the UK to survive in the ‘global race’.

What’s the big problem?

Andy highlighted that universities are doing ok so where is the mismatch between economic performance and productivity.

Mid-level jobs globally have been declining over that last 2 decades, therefore if your degree doesn’t get you into the high level job then you’ll fall into low skilled jobs. Andy introduced the term ‘Gringo’ which stands for graduates in non-graduate occupations.

The number of people studying HE level quals overall is dropping, albeit increasing in FT numbers. This is a worrying trend, it means more young people are going to University, in itself not a bad thing, however it is probably related to riding out the economic storm. Additionally, there will continue to be a declining number of young people (18-20) in the UK until 2021.

Andy walked us through some frightening stats about the sheer drop in ‘other HE’ provision. I alluded to this in my Blog earlier but to see the decline since 2010 in numbers is frightening.

The stats are as follows:

-28% fall in PG study
-50% fall in part-time study
-big falls in non honours degree provision (small awards, CPD etc)
-big falls in employer (public and private) funded provision

The ‘one-size fits all’ has become common place and isn’t helping the UK in the ‘global race’. Andy asked if we are in a higher education bubble and mentioned that the need for change is coming or is already here.

There was a clear message from Andy that no matter which party gets in there isn’t going to be much money to radically change the system. Perhaps this will be the tipping point I alluded to earlier?

HE Funds

An interesting statistic- 60% of students may never fully pay back their loans! YouGov found that 60% of parents are dissatisfied with fee levels….I’m surprised it is so low.

Political Parties

Andy gave a brief overview on each party and their respective views on HE, whilst there were differences in fee structures (Labour advocating £6k) and defining the best route for young people and employees to get qualified the overall structure of FE and HE would remain the same. There does seem to be consensus from all sides on improving apprenticeships, developing national colleges for FE/HE (Vince Cable’s baby) and giving Higher Apprenticeships and/or technical degrees more priority and status. There is much less agreement on UG fees and funding.

A similar message to that given by Andrew Battarbee and particularly interesting should we have another coalition government.

Reimagining HE

Andy challenged the status quo and suggested the time was now ‘reimagine HE’ offering up suggestions such as the end of ‘one size fits all’, the return of the polytechnic, more locally/regionally devolved system and clear links with industrial strategy.

He suggested that university strategies were ‘identikit’ and lack innovation and encouraged HE leaders to be more risk taking, better linked to employers and be ok with being different!


There is a need to diversify the system and link education with the industrial strategy where provision is co-created with employers and in line with the city region agenda so that skills developed are utilised and high value jobs are created.

An excellent session detailing some scary stats for universities. The need for change is NOW!

Have we reached a tipping point ?

I am on my way to attend the annual University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC) conference on  for the first time since 2011. I always enjoyed the conference but have not prioritised attendance for the last two years for one reason or another.

“UVAC is a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1999 by the higher and further education sector. We provide an independent voice for our members on matters relating to higher level vocational learning. Our mission is to champion higher level vocational learning”.

I’m attending as both a work-based learning practitioner and a blogger (inspired by the Blog squad at CIPD) for UVAC and the Journal of Higher Education, Skills and Work Based Learning or as all the cool kids call it ‘HESWBL’ (ripped from Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast or ‘RHLSTP’).

The main aim of the UVAC conference is to review trends, political decisions, employer needs and University practice in vocational higher level work-based learning.

Work-Based Learning (WBL) in Higher Education

The last 20 years has seen significant growth in WBL as a distinct field of business within universities rather than a consitutuent component within disciplinary or professional fields. It has long been acknowledged that high-level learning doesn’t just occur at university and its physical locations, but goes on in many other locations too. Controversial!

There are many Universities that have excellent systems and processes that enable them to work effectively and efficiently with employers to meet their workforce development needs by using the workplace as a site of learning. Of course this concept is not new for vocational education, however higher education grappled with it for a long time before accepting that YES you can learn in the workplace and that it can be recognised by a university as having academic merit and credit.

For my non-university colleagues let me just say that this is no small achievement, however we have a long way to go before WBL in its purest form is well established as everyday business.

I’ve been playing in the space where academia meets business in an attempt to make it easier for  learners, employers and universities to access higher level qualifications using the workplace as a site of learning. It is my passion and my ambition (indeed the title of my blog) that “The Twain SHALL Meet”.

I’ve had the pleasure of learning at the feet of  WBL legends  Professor David Young and Ann Minton (@annimint) who schooled me in the fine arts of WBL in higher education. The 3 of us spent many an hour discussing and writing about work-based learning,  we developed programmes for and with employers and employees and refined our practice over a few years. The experience for me was extremely exciting as it allowed me to be in an academic environment but close to business and therefore up-to-date and relevant.

Defining WBL 

We love a definition in academia, so in keeping with tradition there I have outlined a continuum of WBL.

  • learning through work – learning while working
  • learning for work – learning how to do new or existing things better
  • learning at work – learning that takes place in the workplace
  • learning from work – ‘curriculum’ that grows out of the experience of the learner, their work context and their community of practice.

    Adapted from Nixon et al (2006)

In traditional UG programmes one often finds WBL modules within a degree programme as part of the drive towards ‘experiential learning’, in most cases this is learning for work. In taught PG programmes WBL learning is often extolled as a virtue of the programme, however in practice this is often learning through work i.e. the learners take a series of pre-defined modules that, in some instances, allows them to use a project or scenario at work as part of the assessment process. There are clear benefits to both versions of WBL and many learners find the process of completing the project in a safe environment extremely beneficial.

Further along the continuum is WBL in its purest form namely ‘learning at work’ and ‘learning from work’.

The key principles of pure WBL is the recognition of informal learning and allowing learners to decide what they  learn, how they go about learning it and how they demonstrate their learning. The learners are involved in the planning, managing and driving forward of their learning. In essence they can decide how and what they learn from work. This is 70:20:10 years before it was common parlance!

The definitions may be extremely nuanced but the differences in approach and learner experience are fundamental. It is the difference between learning being learner led and the teacher sharing their knowledge of the subject, there is clearly a need for both however our access to knowledge knows no bounds and therefore WBL in universities should be in the ascendency.

Have we reached a tipping point?

Well that’s what I am looking to discover tomorrow at the conference. There have been huge changes in the last 5 years to the higher education market with more turmoil to come, yet the number of part-time learners and employer sponsored learners has never been lower.

Some questions for employers/part time learners

Why are enrolments to part-time programmes so low? Is it solely due to funding?

Are we in academia doing enough to make our programmes accessible and attractive to working people or are we stuck in an model that no longer works?

Would a negotiated curriculum be more attractive to employers?

I hope to come away from the conference with a clearer understanding of the following:

  •  The government’s agenda in relation to vocational skills, higher apprenticeships and funding of part-time UG and PG learning.
  • Current WBL practice within UK HEI’s and how they are dealing with Higher Apprenticeships.
  • The workforce development priorities for employer.

I will be blogging throughout the day and tweeting from @conmossy or @heswbl. The hashtag is #uvac2014, please join in the discussions.

I would love to hear from you and discuss work-based learning in more detail.

Skills and Employability- Andrew Battarbee

UVAC 2014- Skills and Employability- Why this agenda is of critical importance to the HE Sector

Andrew Battarbee, Deputy Director for Skills, BIS

The speaker introduced Andrew and apparently is a nice guy, very approachable and a friend of universities.

Andrew opened the session promising us that he will cover history, philosophy, business studies, geography and futurology. Intrigued!


Andrew also referenced the OECD report and confirms that England is an outlier in sub degree and really not comparative to Germanic countries, USA, Canada and Korea. Andrew gave an analogy of the England football team i.e. lots of running around and sweating without any real bite.

The legacy of this goes back to the Victorian era and then read some minutes from parliament in 1954…..very amusing but ultimately depressing in how we view technical and vocational career paths. Andrew suggested that there are some who believe it was wrong for polytechnics to become universities, he disagrees with this view but believes the polytechnics ‘left something’ behind.

The infrastructure and systems have enabled technical and vocational education to be forgotten about.


The system need to get behind better relationships between FE and HE with employers at the core, this can be done with Higher Apprenticeships and vocational degrees. Politicians need to forget about propagating parity of esteem between academic and vocational and get on with delivering the systems to deliver on action (my interpretation of what Andrew said).

Business Studies

Andrew gave us some statistics from technical industries and highlighted the fact that there was an impending crisis in terms of industries needing people with qualifications at Level 4 and above. He rolled off a litany of industries needing hundreds and thousands of technically able people.

Andrew challenged businesses to up their game and get engaged in taking control of their workforce development. They need to work smarter to develop apprenticeships fit for them and to engage with universities on negotiating bespoke solutions.


A short introduction on geography, he mentioned a devolution deal for Manchester on skills and allowing the city region to take control of local and regional needs. He expects this to be a repeated in other sectors albeit the impact may be indirect on universities.


Universities need to be more confident in what is right and wrong with the current system and use our influence to shape policy. Andrew summarised that whilst there is nuance between parties there is broad consensus on the industrial strategy and the importance of technical and vocational skills.

I was left encouraged by this talk and sensed an impending ‘tipping point’.

As a parent of 3 young kids I will certainly be supporting my kids following an alternative path!

Back from the wilderness-Learning through reflection

Thanks to @sukhpabial for accosting me, in a nice way, at Learning Live to follow up my one previous blog. I claimed busyness and blogging at as an excuse, however I could see from Sukh’s response he wasn’t buying into the corporate blogs as either an excuse or a way of engaging him.

Anyway here goes……

I have been reflecting on my practice a lot since Learning Live where I experienced some excellent sessions that had clear structure and contemporaneous use of technology (in the form of a twitter wall) to stimulate debate, share what was in the room and show off that they knew how to time their tweets to reinforce their points. A neat trick I will use in future.

I also attended some poor sessions which were less stimulating and didn’t particularly engage me. Not one to waste a learning opportunity the sessions got me thinking about how they, and indeed I, design learning. For example did they have a clear understanding of the audience and their needs?

Reflecting on Learning Live- Pedagogy versus andragogy

The best sessions were interactive, engaging and stimulating. From a teaching and learning perspective this was andragogy in action i.e. we were treated as adults who could explore the topics with minimal input from the facilitators. Of course the context was set and we were provided with a broad structure, but how we formed and what we discussed was largely free flowing and determined by the group. It was interesting to watch experienced L&D pros looked confused by the lack of direction and rather broad objective set by the facilitators.

Are we so conditioned to learning through direction that we, learning practitioners, feel uncomfortable when someone asks us to reflect on what we know? We were asked, in more than one session, to share experiences and solve problems by forming rapid communities of practice. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t land as expected but overall we were a rich source for each other and we brought different expertise to the discussion. In educational technical terms the experience was andragogical i.e we were treated as adults with our own experiences that enabled us to learn from each other.

I don’t want to dwell on the negative too much but not all sessions were as inclusive, engaging or thought provoking.  Instead I experienced a didactic ‘show and tell’ approach where we, the learners, were dependent upon the instructor to share their wisdom with us. Don’t get me wrong they had wisdom and interesting stories but my learning experience was superficial and lacked depth. I was left with the following questions:

  • what do I do with this?
  • how could I use it in my practice?
  • was there a better way they could have shared their knowledge?

One particular ‘show and tell’ espoused the benefits of a new API that enabled e-learning content to flex across multiple devices, very interesting and new. How did they share the technology? They showed it on a huge screen! If the technology was so great why didn’t they get us to access it via phones, tablets or laptops? The learning experience would have been greater and we could have become advocates or potential customers.

Designing with the audience in mind

I like Knowles perspective on adult learning built around 6 principles outlined below.

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

How many of us embed the above principles in our programme design?

Certainly, when teaching UG students, I am much more directive; the learner is dependent on me to share my knowledge and guide them through the subject at hand. In educational terms we call this pedagogy. As you can see from the table below pedagogy denotes a more directive ‘teacher’ led approach whilst andragogy adopts a more learner centred approach.

I should heavily caveat that defining pedagogy and andragogy as simply child and adult learning assumes a ‘generic’ learner with similar levels of expertise and characteristics. In many instances a learner centred or facilitator led approach will be influenced by the teacher’s values; in my practice I deal with UG, PG and Corporate clients and often find myself moving along the continuum within sessions and as a general approach to the programme. For me the context of learning, the learner’s knowledge and characteristics will influence my approach. Perhaps for another blog but a recent leadership programme for a major engineering company encompassed facilitator led, self-directed and co-coaching approaches.




5 approaches I use when designing sessions

1. Understand the audience in terms of experience, knowledge of topic, educational background and motivation for being in the room
2. Make sure I and the learners understand ‘why’ what they are learning is important and relevant to them. What’s in it for them!
3. Build in time for reflection, application and action.
4. Work with what’s in the room as the basis for inquiry to stimulate critical thinking and intelligent questioning.
5. Have a destination in mind but be flexible in how we get there and be cool with the destination changing according to need.

I omitted mentioning the development of learning objectives/outcomes which was hotly debated on other Blogs last week. I obviously see the need for them but in certain circumstances believe they can be too restrictive or not aligned to what actually happens. In formal academic courses we are bound by very tight learning outcomes at module and programme level with often unimaginative assessment practices to demonstrate how the outcomes have been met, however we have a lot of autonomy over how we aid and facilitate learning.

It has been good to reflect on my practice and my experience at Learning Live, it has enabled me to bring my values back into focus. I try and put myself in the learner’s shoes and ask myself what would a great learning experience feel like. Time is precious and as L&D practitioners we should never waste our own or that of our learners.

Hopefully you found this Blog a good use of your time! I’d love to hear your comments.


Knowles, M. S. (1989). The making of an adult educator: An autobiographical journey. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass