Skills Show aims to take careers on the road

29th March 2013 at 00:00
Organisers want to showcase vocational routes at local events

The Skills Show, the annual showcase for the FE sector that last year drew 70,000 visitors, hopes to launch a network of local and regional events to become the heart of a UK-wide programme of careers education.

After reviewing surveys of parents, teachers and students who attended the show at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre (NEC), organisers are convinced that their mixture of "have a go" events, impartial advice and question-and-answer sessions with professionals about their careers can offer a new model for careers education.

The survey found that 72 per cent of visiting students said the show made them more likely to consider a vocational education route. The number of young people interviewed after the show who said they wanted to pursue vocational education was 17 percentage points higher than those interviewed beforehand.

"We're basically living the legacy of what was WorldSkills London in 2011," said Skills Show chief executive Ross Maloney. "The legacy of that was a three-year commitment to deliver a national skills show, a national platform to create effectively the reputational vehicle for the further education and skills sector across the UK.

"The interesting parts are the enjoyment factor. Anyone who tries to engage 14- to 18-year-olds will understand just how much of a challenge that is."

As well as showing young people's interest in trying out new skills for themselves, the survey found that 82 per cent of parents and teachers felt they were not equipped to advise students on careers. "What that definitely means is there is a massive market, an opportunity to provide an offer for parents and teachers at the show," Mr Maloney said.

"The primary focus of the show in 2012 was young people. We are very clear that we have to make a better offer, a more enhanced offer, for parents and teachers. There is a gap in the market.

"Schools have a statutory obligation to deliver careers education - that is not going to go away. There is no more time in the timetable, there is no more money in the budget to make that happen. What we do see is some significant impact in doing it in an experiential model, backed up by speaking to real employers and receiving impartial careers advice.

"We want to replicate that, not just at the NEC but also at a more local level, providing some seed funding to allow that to happen in a much more collaborative way: you have colleges, employers, local enterprise partnerships, chambers of commerce coming together."

But the surveys also found that the centrepiece of the show, a national skills competition, had the least impact on young people, with only one in five students saying they intended to watch the contests. Skills Show organisers recognise that some events, from cookery to robotics, can seem obscure and confusing to visitors, who only see a small part of three days of intensive work. So they intend to include much more commentary and interaction around the events, perhaps even including time-lapse photography of the work over the length of the competition, so visitors can see how the work develops.

"We have to be able to tell the story of what is happening," Mr Maloney said. "On a human level, where have the competitors come from? What has their journey been? What are they doing? What does the end product look like?"

Carole Stott, the new chair of the Skills Show, who is also chair of the Association of Colleges, said the competitions remained vital for the show's other aim: to set standards of excellence in vocational learning that can feed back to the 230 colleges involved in the show, along with other providers.

"The other big issue for us is around quality and excellence and standards," she said. "You see excellent standards of performance. The issue is: how do we integrate that back into the sector, into teaching and learning, into vocational pedagogy? How do we build on competitions and the high standards of excellence, benchmark those standards and also inform teaching and learning? That is a really big agenda for us."

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