Although appointed by Jane Davidson, the Labour minister for education and lifelong learning, Mr McGowan, 54, a business adviser and former headteacher, seems to be his own man.
"I made my lack of party politics clear and she seemed unconcerned that I wasn't a Labour supporter. I think it helps that I'm not a civil servant.
"I think certain levels of literacy and numeracy have declined and the graduate academic route isn't right for most of the population.
"I'd prefer to see half the country with graduate-level qualifications - vocational skills that have rigour, and which benefit the individual and business community."
Mr McGowan has been seconded to the Assembly government until April 2007 to promote vocational skills and qualifications, and says his first priority is fact-finding. fforwm, the FE colleges association, wants to arrange an early meeting.
"Ideally we'd have liked someone with broader experience of FE," says chief executive John Graystone. "It's an interesting appointment and we'll judge him on his performance."
Iwan Guy, acting director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, says Mr McGowan's appointment will be a focal point for promoting vocational skills. "But it's important he has real power," he adds.
"He'll also need a good understanding of the Welsh-language dimension - it's difficult finding work experience for young people wanting to use the language."
David Rosser, director of the CBI in Wales, says: "He needs to have an understanding of the needs of the employer community and issues regarding access to and delivery of training."
Ms Davidson announced in May she wanted a champion to promote and improve the image of vocational learning. Mr McGowan will work with employers and sector skills councils to drive up demand for vocational learning.
He'll also deal with schools, universities, colleges, private providers, Estyn and Careers Wales to improve provision. Other priorities will be helping improve learning pathways at ages 14 to 19 and developing innovative approaches to Modern Apprenticeships and the Welsh baccalaureate.
Mr McGowan is a business adviser and executive coach running his own company, Cordell Gowan at Usk.
He started his career as an English teacher and became a head in the independent sector, at Priory College, Lincolnshire, and then at Waterside School, Hertfordshire. He is vice-chair of the Institute of Directors in south and west Wales and a governor of St Alban's high school, Pontypool.