Announcing the winning ideas from VocTech Future of Skills Award 2023

Ufi are delighted to announce the winners of the VocTech Future of Skills Award 2023.

The VocTech Future of Skills Award is a new competition to share and celebrate big, tech-enabled ideas of how changes to the UK skills system could transform the way adults get the skills they need for work.

Award entrants were asked to answer a single question:

"If you could make one change to the skills system to get more adults learning, what would it be?"

We received a wonderful range of bold and exciting visions for what the future could look like, stimulating fierce discussion amongst our judges, a group of nine stakeholders from across the UK skills and adult learning sector.

The two finalists and three winners were announced this evening at the Ufi VocTech Showcase as part of this year’s Week of VocTech.


Left to right: Rebecca Garrod-Waters from Ufi, Ione Banks, Hannah Kirkbride from Career Matters, Gill Scott, Paul McCormack from Belfast Met, Stuart Hill from Assistiv, Dominic Gill from Ufi

The finalists

Firstly, we are delighted to announce two finalists who both submitted impressive visions on how to improve the UK skills system:

Project SmarterStride, from Ione Banks

This entry reflected on the difficulties young people have in knowing which direction to choose as a career, and that many adults still feel the consequences of not knowing. The author suggested that AI could be used to create personalised learning maps by assessing a learner's skills and interests and then recommending multiple avenues for career progression. The AI would provide ongoing practical support and feedback, encouraging lifelong learning.

The judges were impressed by this submission from an individual only recently completing their A-Levels. They thought that it contained some bold ideas around the use of AI and the development of PLMs – Personal Learning Maps.

How to support adults to THRIVE, from Career Matters

This idea aims to tackle failings in the system that contribute to the persistence of poor employment, health, and well-being outcomes in lived experience communities. They are not gaining the skills they need during their time being cared for by the state and face a 'cliff edge' of support as they become adults.

The focus is on designing new ways of working with care experienced communities, and employers, to attract and unleash an untapped pool of talent. Utilising a blended approach; digital platform plus human support, puts in place the 'support scaffolding' that increases chances of success for people who are furthest away from learning.

Judges were impressed by the focus on lived experience, and felt there was potential to expand the thinking that underpinned the submission to create a wider systems change around the way we consider learning, skills, and support. Particularly for those who have faced multiple barriers to progression in life and are most removed from traditional pathways into education, employment or training.

The winners

After careful deliberation from the judges, we are thrilled to announce the three winning visions:

Clear pathways through short courses: Making it work for adult learners, from Gill Scott

This entry described how place-based approaches offer the potential for closer relationships with employers and longer-term collaborative approaches to developing a curriculum that meets the needs of the local economy.

It taps into the growing recognition that digital technology can provide high value, flexible and accessible vocational learning, particularly in blended models where theory and practice can be more closely intertwined.

It explains how a shift in focus to a longer-term collaborative approach can be beneficial; moving away from competition between providers for staff, learners, and short-term funding for initiatives. Complex networks of localities can be interconnected, resources, learning and expertise can be shared, building capacity for the long term.

The judges were impressed by the clear articulation of systems already in place and a vision for the way this could be expanded to achieve wider system change across the UK. Judges liked the fact that it focused on flexibility of learning, in both the formal and informal context, and the importance of the link to place and local need and challenges.

cryptoSKILL, from Belfast Met

The central idea underlining this entry is that all learning 'transactions' have a value associated. As new skills are developed, they can be 'cashed in' for accreditation. A universal value of micro-credentials helps learners, employers and training providers have a shared 'currency' to represent equivalence. The technology proposed is blockchain - which is mainstream, but appropriate.

The judges felt this was a provocative and bold vision for an innovative system that seeks to give greater learner agency, advance micro-credentialling and other flexible and modular forms of learning, and change the debate about the value of skills. They felt that it challenged thinking about the way skills are valued and the motivation and incentive for adults to learn. They believed it would provoke debate, elicit strong responses, and stimulate extensive engagement.

Assistiv from Assistiv CIC

This video entry showed how people with learning disabilities, who want to work, can be enabled to do so by using the right technology (e.g. smart phone / smart watch) to provide learners with the support they need, when they need it.  It demonstrated how the model can be embedded in employer processes and systems, rather than a 'bolt on', delivering direct value to employers as well as helping people with learning disabilities to grow in their jobs.

The judges were impressed by the employer lens on the challenge question and were interested in the idea of a systemic change that started with those furthest away, that would therefore create wider improvement for all. Whilst the product target audience is a subset of the full potential learner community, the potential impact for change through a different way of viewing implementation was seen as something that could be very powerful.


About the VocTech Future of Skills Award 

Launched as part of Ufi’s VocTech Challenge: Skills for an Economy in Transition, the VocTech Future of Skills Award celebrates the entire VocTech community’s commitment to transforming the way adults get the skills they need for work.

The VocTech Future of Skills Award is a new competition to share and celebrate big, tech-enabled ideas of how changes to the UK skills system could transform the way adults get the skills they need for work.

From August to September 2023, we were looking for bold visions for a better skills system. We wanted to hear imaginative and practical ideas, enabled by tech, for improving the system and radically increasing adult participation in learning. We were interested in ideas that look beyond a new product, supplier, organisation or service, and which consider how different organisations, people and structures could work together to overcome systemic barriers to learning.

We wanted to see ideas that get to the heart of systemic change – this could be through better deployment of technology, changes in policy or systems that enable different ways of utilising tech solutions, or structural change that sees technology utilised in new ways.

The VocTech Future of Skills Award 2023

Explore the competition to get more adults learning.