FE Heroes: 'Further education makes a real difference'

HR adviser Pria Kapoor found the college sector through a volunteering placement. Here, she tells her story

Tes Reporter

FE Heroes: 'Further education colleges can make a real difference'

What is your name, job title and place of work?

Pria Kapoor, HR adviser, Sandwell College.

How long have you held your current role, and what other jobs did you have before?

I have been working in my current role for around three years. Prior to my current role, I worked as an HR administrator for four years and an HR assistant for three years.

How – and why – did you first start working in further education?

By complete luck! I always imagined myself working within the private industry but left university following my undergraduate studies when recession hit the UK labour market. I followed through on a volunteering placement that was offered by Sandwell College through the college’s strong links with the Job Centre. I was particularly interested at this point in gaining real-life work experience and I have never looked back since. My volunteer placement turned into a permanent contract and I have been provided with many types of developmental and CPD opportunities.  

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Briefly describe what a day at work looks like for you... 

No two days are the same. You have the ability to plan and prioritise day-to-day activities (actioning emails, progressing with case work, answering incoming queries) but the nature of HR work will mean that there are sensitive matters that may require immediate attention on an ad hoc basis. As an HR professional, our main focus is to support staff and managers, but there is also an ethos to have a learner-focused approach and get involved in wider college activities, such as enrolment and open days/evenings.

What motivates you in your workplace?

Innovation and organisational vision. The college provides this as it is constantly committed to improvements in enhancing learner experience, growth and reaching outstanding. There is an interest from the senior leadership team to engage staff in thinking about how their service can contribute to the strategic direction of the college. In my role, this allows me the flexibility to contribute to improvements in approaches to people management matters, within advice and guidance and improving services relating to employee mental health and wellbeing. There is also a real dedicated passion from staff in giving their learners the best opportunity to reach their goals and working supportively and collectively during times of difficulty. I am personally motivated in seeing this. 

Share an anecdote about a student or learner who has inspired you...

A learner with physical disability – this did not stop her from enrolling on to sport studies and progressing in her studies. A happy, polite, enthusiastic leaner who was always willing to volunteer to support staff recruitment activities. Her input provided a balanced view of candidates from a learner perspective, which she approached with maturity and an open mind.

Do you enjoy working in FE? And if so, why?

Further education can make a real difference – to individuals, to the local community and our students’ lives. It provides a wide and varied exposure to different industry settings and Sandwell College has been invaluable and critical in my professional journey as an HR professional. The excellent holiday allowance is also a nice bonus!

What do you see as the big challenges for the FE sector in the next few years?

Responding to Covid and building resilience. As a mental health first aider, the differing levels of impact that Covid and the restrictions have had, and may continue to have, on individual mental wellbeing is something that cannot be underestimated, requiring a sensitive, flexible yet practical approach to people management. The impact to industry sectors (such as travel and tourism) will also require a real review of how we can ensure that our learners get the best vocational opportunity and skill set to prepare them to reach their career aspirations. This is in addition to responding to changes in government policy and funding (eg, the introduction of T levels). 

What do you think our FE sector will look like in 30 years’ time?

More innovative ways in delivering teaching and engaging learners in learning, which may lend itself to more flexible approaches to working. Distance learning may provide more opportunities for international students to access UK-based education

If you were made apprenticeships and skills minister, what is the first thing you’d introduce or change?

Placing less administrative burden on colleges and students, and perhaps a more streamlined approach to assessment criteria questions.

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