All those who work in the field of higher education and training are aware of the technical education reform that has swept through the industry in recent years.
Rooted in the recommendations of the Sainsbury’s Review 2016, we saw the introduction of the Institute for Technical Apprenticeship and Education (IfATE), Occupational Standards (established by panels of pioneering employers) and a new set of technical qualifications linked to them: the T levels and learning.
The standards ensure that we prepare people of all ages for the world of work, developing their knowledge, skills, behaviors and competencies. We prepare people for today’s world of work and give them the skills to adapt to future jobs.
Much of this reform has focused on Level 3, but the reforms do not stop there. If you award Higher Education (HE) degrees – and there is a substantial supply in Continuing Education (FE) frameworks, including HNCs, HNDs, Foundation Degrees, Diplomas and a whole range of short courses at levels 4 and 5 – change is coming, and it’s time to start preparing.
HTQ: think about the benefits
It’s worth taking a minute to remember the value of Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs).
Chris Fairclough, ETF and Royal Commission Technical Education Fellow and Head of Curriculum Operations in the Department of Higher Engineering, Science and Nuclear at Lakes College, earned his BEng in Nuclear Power Plant Operations and Processes through a day release program sponsored by his employer, Sellafield.
In what was, in effect, a pioneer in higher learning, Chris developed the skills and behaviors he needed through on-the-job training and gained technical knowledge through his college education and on-the-job experience. square :
“By the time I turned 24, I had almost finished my bachelor’s degree, but I also had five years of industry experience behind me. It gave me an edge over graduates joining the company, for example, because I knew how the company worked.
The design principle for Chris’ course was based on a simple question: “You develop all this technical knowledge over the five years of your bachelor’s degree: are you able to apply it in the workplace?” And this question will be the test of “approved higher technical qualifications” in the future: to be badged as “approved” higher technical qualifications, Level 4 and Level 5 qualifications will have to demonstrate their professional relevance and that they meet to the needs of employers.
A new kite brand for HTQs
“Approved HTQs will be clearly identified with a government-backed brand and quality mark, so learners can find the right higher technical courses and employers can hire people with the right skills.
These qualifications will:
- To provide the knowledge, skills and behaviors necessary to enter one or more professions throughout the country.
- Be understood and recognized as being of high quality by employers and thus have value in the national labor market; and
- Give learners confidence that these qualifications are recognized by employers and seen as a credible, prestigious and distinct pathway. »
To achieve this rating, suppliers will need to demonstrate that their qualification meets the professional competencies described in an occupational standard.
These standards will be familiar to anyone who has delivered apprenticeships or T-levels, but not necessarily to colleagues working on HNCs (Level 4), HNDs (Level 5), Foundation Degrees (Level 5) or Complementary Degrees at level 6.
To obtain the HTQ kite brand, suppliers will have to meet the requirements of several partners, for example:
- the academic quality requirements of the higher education institution (EES) that validates their basic diplomas
- the outcomes desired by their employer partners
- the accreditation requirements of one or more professional bodies (for example, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers [IMechE] and the Engineering Council)
- alignment with a learning standard to gain IfATE approval.
Chris explains how Lakes College (National College for Nuclear – NCFN) has positioned itself for the upcoming changes:
“When we developed our engineering degree programs four years ago, we wanted to align them with the skills set out in approved professional standards, particularly with regard to higher learning. We decided to focus on nuclear to start with and then look at the Engineering Council Skills for Engineering Technicians at Level 5 and the Incorporated Engineer (IEng) Skills at Level 6. We found that By linking these skills through certain modules – the Workplace Learning modules, Professional Development modules and Project modules – learners can focus their work on the skill set they are working towards.
Lakes College (NCfN) has used this to its advantage in terms of recruitment and associated revenue. The external accreditation by professional bodies it has obtained gives its programs ‘market value’ outside of learning partnerships and provides additional value to the region.
For Chris and Lakes College (NCfN), providing educational opportunities to West Cumbria communities is a key driver for their higher technical qualifications:
“We want to keep people local. This will be one of the key elements of HTQs in the future: incoming students can aspire to obtain higher qualifications without having to travel to larger cities. They can stay local and study locally. There are lots of bright kids in Cumbria and by developing these degrees we have helped to keep some really talented young people here.
Of course, the benefits of HTQs aren’t just for young learners. Adults already in the labor market want to upgrade their skills or change careers, and those returning to the labor market can benefit from work-based pathways to higher qualifications and fulfilling professions.
Chris explains: “We had a recent example. A qualified pharmacist wanted to retrain to work in the nuclear industry. This individual self-paid his way through our foundation degree and then the decommissioning and waste management license add-on. They recently secured a place in the Sellafield Graduate Scheme, on the basis that they have completed an accredited degree, which develops the same knowledge, skills and behaviors that their senior apprentices receive at Lakes College.
Where to start?
Lakes College (NCfN) had planned to develop a new suite of higher technical programs, but for many providers achieving HTQ status could involve considerable work to re-engage partner employers, professional bodies and validate SEA. Chris has the following advice for those at the start of this journey:
- Start by talking to your employer partners: choose exactly the roles they want to fill via their HTQs.
- Establish the knowledge, skills and behaviors they will need for these roles and their potential future roles.
- Associate them with a professional standard (or, if there is no appropriate standard, start a conversation with IfATE).
- Consider how this knowledge, skills and behaviors can be translated into modules and learning outcomes that meet the requirements of your HEI and employers.
- Look at your teaching and learning environment and think: how can the sector-specific skills learners need be supported, developed and facilitated through the teaching space we provide? Do learners have access to industry standard equipment and technology and are they supported to become effective in their use?
Well done, this next step of technical education reform has the potential to refresh and reinvigorate technical education offerings that may have lost relevance in rapidly changing industry sectors, revitalize the offering, and retrain and reskill the regional workforce.
Continuing education – already on the rise – has the potential to redefine the education and industry landscape by further integrating its relevance and relationship with employers and industry through approved HTQs and Level 4 and 5 higher technical courses for respond to local and regional needs and demand.
It is up to EF providers to ask themselves how they can work with employers, higher education institutions and other stakeholders to create demand for Higher technical education so that we can address the long-standing “missing middle” skills gap.
Cerian Ayres, National Technical Education Officer, Education and Training Foundation
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