On Tuesday 9th December Christine and I attended a Scottish Funding Council (SFC) ICT conference in Edinburgh at the invitation of the SFC Senior Policy Officer for Strategic Development, this being an outcome of the meeting we had attended at SFC on 27th November. The aim of the meeting was to bring together people in FE and HE with employers to discuss how FE and HE can support eskills training. We had never met such a group before but it was soon apparent that the employer representatives were well known to SFC staff and had a good record in supporting eskills development and were therefore not necessarily typical of employers as a whole and indeed one of them remarked. “We are untypical because we are here” and a lack of employer vision proved to be one of the themes of the day.
There were two introductory keynote presentations which included such points as the growing number of businesses using IT, and the need for IT staff to focus on the needs of their employers. The need to focus on the generation which did not grow up with the Internet was emphasised and our old and highly relevant friends, soft skills development, including problem solving were mentioned.
Much of the rest of the day was taken up with discussion and feedback sessions. Our study of information usage in the workplace and our round of meetings, following on from it, suggested that the public sector is a promising area and that getting the message over to Small to Medium Sized Enterprises (SME’s) is the biggest problem. This and similar issues surfaced – how do you target the right people in organisations? ; SMEs don’t look ahead and plan for the future. Timing, mode of delivery and length of training were all discussed. The need to find out what companies want is crucial as universities often don’t do this. Also mentioned is the need to involve the Scottish Trades Union Congress and particularly its learning representatives who, as we learned from our meeting with the STUC’s Everyday Skills Committee on Tuesday 25th November, have an excellent grasp of workplace training needs. Significantly nobody from the STUC had been invited to attend. Suggested solutions included an annual event where people from SMEs could meet university staff, which sounds like a good opportunity for IL advocates.
After the first discussion session feedback included developing employability skills and improving course content. Increasing funding training weighted in favour of SMEs was also mentioned.
In the discussions there was quite a lot of criticism of the teaching of IT in schools which was felt to be out of date, boring and lacking in relevance to pupils. This, in turn, raises a major policy issue: the absence of any University input to Curriculum for Excellence planning. While this is a big issue it suggests that our Framework which links secondary and tertiary education is quite pioneering.
After lunch there were short presentations by several participants who included Christine Sinclair, the executive director of the Institute of Business at Adam Smith College. They work actively with schools in developing the Curriculum for Excellence and also have an advisory board of employers who have, inter alia, urged the need for more soft skills training.
Finally we were invited to suggest a training area into which the SFC might put money and asked to break up into groups to discuss it. Our group spent a lot of time discussing the developing of targeted training for SMEs which would have be funded by SFC since SMEs obviously won’t do it themselves. We all agreed that market research was needed to find out what SMEs want and appropriate mode of delivery is essential whether online, face to face or mentor mediated. An administrative structure would need to be put in place to make it work effectively.
Overall it was a useful day with the main message being that the promotion of eskills and IL training face similar problems