Steadfast in the Promise of Digital
By Rebecca Garrod-Waters, CEO of Ufi VocTech Trust
2020 has been a year to focus minds on the do's and don'ts of digital technology and human endeavour. The role of technology has come into sharp focus, as we go about our lives, working, learning and socialising whilst in the midst of a global pandemic.
For all of us at Ufi VocTech Trust, this belief in the power of technology to unlock opportunity has been long-held. In 2014, we created a five-year funding strategy - Learning without walls - that set out our ambitions and intentions, spanning 2015-2020. Our mission was, and still is, to support the development of technologies that help us all obtain the vocational skills we need to get more out of our working lives.
As we now look back on the impact of that strategy cycle, clear lessons emerge which resonate in our experience of 2020. We believe in the power of VocTech - technology which supports vocational learning - to change lives. But how?
Our independent impact evaluation report recognised three main areas our funding made a difference and these were;
- Impact at a learner level
- Impact at an organisational level
- Impact across the digital vocational sector
For the full report, you can go to https://ufi.co.uk/who-we-are/publications/
But, below, you'll find just some of the stories that positively impacted our 250,000 beneficiaries, in the spirit of shared learnings for the sector.
Impact at learner level
Vocational technology, in the right context, and with the right implementation, can improve learner outcomes: by improving retention, enabling wide-scale access to learning in the workplace or at times that were convenient for learners.
Some examples from our impact evaluation report;
Digging into the past: a virtual reality enabled experience which aimed to provide a cost-effective digital solution to training to bring candidates up to speed on missed workshops, thus reducing course dropouts. Scottish Waterways Trust reported that drop-out rates decreased post-adoption.
Guided Coding Journey: In 2019, 115 refugee or disadvantaged learners had taken up the course with an 80% graduation rate, supporting their onward employability.
Frailty SIM: FrailtySIM is a Virtual Reality workforce development tool that improves healthcare for older people living with frailty. All testers (c.1,000) involved believed the app had a positive impact on their ability to do their job with the majority reporting that the programme was useful.
Impact at an organisational level
Vocational technology can have impact at an organisational level.
We have all experienced some form of digitisation (converting analogue resources to digital), digitilisation (changing business processes through the use of digital technology), or even digital transformation, (adding value through these new business processes) this year.
At Ufi we actively demonstrate our values: we have worked remotely for many years, assisted by the vocational technology we support.
In our impact evaluation report, the impact of vocational technology at an organisational level is largely through the digitisation of organisations, and the development of new working models, technical experience and market knowledge. (Almost half of the organisations responding to our impact research, stated that the contribution of the Ufi-funded project to developing working practices and/or mainstreaming digital technology into the wider organisation, was better than expected.) Our Ufi-funded projects told us that this was due to profile-raising, partnership, collaborations and network-building, and introductions to new working models as a result of working with us.
Some examples from our impact evaluation report;
LearningLabs; Learning Labs is a team of former teachers, linguists, techies and professionals exploring how the latest technology can make language more accessible to every student. Learning Labs secured the support of major stakeholders (Jaguar Land Rover and Make UK) in order to successfully pilot of its FlashAcademy English language platform amongst around 100 employees. Learning Labs has since secured additional funding and at the time of reporting was in its testing phase of a BETA version with an estimated 500 current users and 10,000 projected users over the next 12-18 months.
Flavours of Reality; Flavours of Reality is Grimsby Institute's approach to improving food manufacturing productivity and safety through the use of virtual reality. For the Flavours of Reality project, Grimsby Institute collaborated with the University of Lincoln to deliver the project, in order to access MA and PhD students studying AR/VR technologies. This enabled them to raise their profile and harness support from industry partners.
National Numeracy; The National Numeracy website is a free resource allowing adults to assess their current numeracy level, access learning resources and measure their improvement. The project highlighted the need for greater efficiency in working practices and an increased need for monitoring and reporting to ensure developments and day-to-day decisions were well informed. New models of working were adopted including daily reporting on targets and more regular progress meetings, developments which have been embedded in the organisation and continued after the funding period.
Impact across the digital vocational sector
One of the major impacts of Ufi-funded projects established through our independent impact research was the importance of flexibility and contextualisation for technologies developed, to be applied and mobilised in a variety of settings.
This is important, when we consider scale; and the ability of technologies to drive workplace skills development across a variety of sectors including health and social care, construction, food-manufacturing and many others that we work to support.
Ufi funding is also essential in allowing the time and space for experimentation. This has often led to a catalysing effect for positive change. For example;
Robot Trainer: Harlow College and partners used Ufi funding to enable the first AR/VR robot trainer demonstrator within the automotive industry. This has subsequently driven increased interest in AR/VR training across the sector, which is now far more commonplace.
Readable: Playlingo has developed a working prototype of a chat fiction app for adult ESOL learners, considered a world first when launched.
Our impact evaluation report also offered plenty of insights into lessons learnt by grantees, including organisational structures for success, stakeholder engagement suggestions and resource deployment. There are also recommendations for Ufi, and we look forward to implementing many of them, including new ways to engage our amazing Voctech alumni community and refine our impact metrics even further.
Now we move forward into our next impact strategy cycle, the importance of our work is greater than ever. The recent UK spending review forecast that unemployment is expected to reach 7.5% by spring 2021, with 2.6 million people out of work, and a newly announced £4.6bn package to help people back to work demonstrates the values Government place on reskilling our workforce.
Our evaluations show that vocational technology has the ability to scale the amazing work of our further education colleges, employers, learners and entrepreneurs to help people to enjoy productive working lives.
We will continue to advocate for the effective, impactful use of vocational technology.
This starts with our 2021 Voctech Challenge where we ask,
How can VocTech improve vocational outcomes for people most impacted by the digital divide and at greatest risk from the long-term impact of the pandemic on access to training and jobs? How do we then link those vocational skills to real employment opportunities?