Two weeks’ ago we had the pleasure of visiting Wales to host an insight-filled day looking at the ways in which digital technology is transforming skills for work.
In 2020, the Welsh government declared that ‘Wales must be ready for the future’ with the launch of a Digital 2030 Strategy to equip post-16 learners for digital learning and the future of work. We are keen to explore how vocational technology is supporting their ambitions.
The event brought together representatives from a diverse group of organisations including Colegau Cymru / Colleges Wales; Coleg Sir Gâr, Bridgend College, Cardiff Vale College and Gower College; as well as stakeholders in vocational learning from FSB Wales, Big Ideas Wales, iDEA, Adult Learning Wales and Audactive. We were especially pleased that Rhun ap Iorwerth, Member of the Senedd and Chair of the Digital in Wales Cross Party Group was able to join the discussion.
From the co-creation of policy through to learnings in risk-taking and experimentation, our panel covered a broad range of topics and Ufi Deputy Chief Executive, Louise Rowland, teased out many illuminating examples of how technology can be used to transform adult learning for work in a range of settings.
The panel discussion exploring ‘Accelerating the Adoption of Digital Technologies in Vocational Education in Wales’ comprised Jeff Greenidge, Director for Diversity at the Association of Colleges (AoC); Alyson Nicholson, Head of Jisc Wales; and Neil Tamplin, Managing Director of Aspiration Training.
Sparking lively debate were ideas around learner-centered engagement and lessons learnt from the pandemic in the delivery of technology-enabled approaches to learning. In the words of AoC’s Jeff Greenidge: “we shouldn't really waste a good crisis... the pandemic has pushed us to do things that we thought we would never have done”. We heard how the pandemic presented challenges not only to learner groups and employers, but also to internal teams. This necessitated upskilling at all levels.
As Chair of the panel, Louise Rowland, asked probing questions about the changing nature of work and the need to continually upskill and reskill in the face of automation, an ageing workforce and persistently low levels of engagement from adults in lifelong learning.
“One size doesn't fit all” when it comes to the digital delivery of vocational training, explained Neil Tamplin and a flexible approach is essential. People will be starting from different levels of competence and there will be marked variation between different sectors.
With a continued emphasis on collaboration, our panel spoke of the value derived from assembling a diverse set of stakeholders for purposeful discussions. They stressed the usefulness of sharing experiences and best practice with honesty, with Jisc’s Alyson Nicholson suggesting that a panel focusing solely on failures rather than shining successes would be well received since this is where much learning occurs. This is an area we will be exploring further.
Issues around connectivity - an ongoing problem in some parts of Wales - were raised, as well as the importance of breaking down silos between different stakeholder groups. Bringing voices together from across the education and skills landscape was a key objective for the event so we were glad to hear this echoed by the panel.
In a Q&A segment, Rhun ap Iorwerth, asked our panelists how Wales can tackle the digital skills shortage to meet the demands of industry and, specifically how to engage younger learners.
I'm confident that the jobs are there. You have innovators in Wales and the biggest problem they tell me they have is finding the people to help them deliver their potential.
The panel spoke of the importance of choosing the “right tools, technology and platforms” to engage the younger generation. This might involve new approaches that challenge staff, such as Aspiration Training’s ‘brave decision’ to move to TikTok, which initially raised some eyebrows at senior level, but ultimately ‘increased participation rates massively’.
Ufi Project and Partnership Manager, Patrick Dunn, discussed the ‘genuinely innovative’ online careers programme, Game Academy, which uses ‘invisible learning’ through gamification and data-driven approaches to assessing a student’s strengths and development areas in real time. Jeff Greenidge spoke of a student-created programme around ‘Black Lives Matter’ from West Suffolk College and Alyson Nicholson stressed the potential of virtual and immersive experiences.
A final question from our audience promoted rich discussion around ways of accessing employment pathways for people with disabilities.
As with all face-to-face events, much of the value was to be found in the networking and shared conversations. It was interesting to note the range of experience and comfort levels in using technology to support learning for work. We were glad to facilitate the conversation: linking organisations seeking support to those with practical experience of doing just that.
Moving forward, we are eager to continue engaging in Wales, attending meetings of the Digital in Wales Cross Party Group and speaking to stakeholders about how Ufi’s experience and network of Welsh projects can support the Digital 2030 mission.
We look forward to keeping these conversations alive and to supporting Welsh organisations to keep driving forward to deliver better outcomes for all.