How vocational teachers can avoid 'skills fade'

Teachers must ensure their industry knowledge remains current, not least with T levels on the way, says Mark Beetlestone

Mark Beetlestone

Digital skills: Student at computer

Educators in the 21st century need to be tech-savvy. There are no two ways about it – digital is not “the future” any more; it is very much “now”. Digital innovation pervades every profession to its core and will continue to do so, so how can educators hope to keep up in an ever changing world where we aim to train students for jobs that don’t even exist yet?

Skills fade is a real challenge for practitioners who teach vocational subjects, it’s always been the case. It’s hard to maintain an up-to-date skill set when you are not living and breathing changes to the industry you specialise in. This, paired with the advent of digital technologies, has the potential to become a perfect storm where teachers are so out of touch with the working practices of their vocation that they become irrelevant. 

Background: 'Digital technology helps us learn more', say students

Opinion: Is your college ready for digital transformation?

Background: T levels: everything you need to know

T levels 

I have experienced this feeling first-hand this year with the new digital T level  – due to be introduced next year – which focuses primarily on industry-standard practice in software development. I have taught vocational ICT for years, I have experience delivering technical qualifications, I know the types of learners and the employers we will be dealing with…But I have no idea what it’s like working as a software developer in 2019-20.

Vocational colleges who seek to deliver a true industry standard level of qualification need to keep their workforce’s skills current and, possibly most importantly, keep the practitioners’  passions for their vocation alive. 

My institution allows practitioners three “industry days” per year in order to keep skills and knowledge up to date. This works well – we get to pick the employer to work with and manage outcomes, making the whole experience very individualised. I’ve returned from the workplace armed with new ideas, ready to introduce my students to the latest developments to the industry, straight from the horse’s mouth.

As vocational educators we have a responsibility to our learners to give them a full, rich and up to date experience in education. Sometimes, keeping skills up to date can feel like another thing to add to the every growing to-do list but making time for it can help reignite some passion back into your practice.

Mark Beetlestone is a curriculum area lead at Fareham College

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