Please tell me a little bit about your core responsibilities and your priorities for this year?
I am the SVP for BTEC and Apprenticeships at Pearson and am responsible for the development of all Pearson’s UK technical, vocational and apprenticeship qualifications delivered by Schools, Colleges, Private Training Providers and Employers.
My key priority for the year is ensuring that Pearson continues to help with the provision of career-focused education helping learners make progress in their lives, and ensuring we increasingly build and align the BTEC brand to the future of skills and work.
What do you think about the current skills & employability landscape? Is there enough emphasis placed on vocational education and lifelong learning?
The vocational education landscape has continued to be in a state of flux, with changes being made to existing qualifications whilst at the same time new qualifications and reforms being introduced.
One of the unintended consequences of reform is that it can undermine the good that already exists. For example, there is near-universal agreement that we need to get better at delivering vocational education to young people and our communities across the country.
The coming introduction of T levels is good news. They will provide rigour and focus. But their introduction has implications for the future survival of BTEC which are highly valued by schools and colleges up and down the country, taken by over 1 million people a year.
Ensuring BTECs’ survival, alongside other Applied General qualifications, is key to giving young people access to three broad routes at 16; the A level academic pathway; a career-focused BTEC pathway leaving options for both further study or heading straight into a career at 18; and a more specialised technical pathway based on T levels.
We must not destroy what’s already working in our current system – Pearson BTECs – which provide people with a pathway to higher education and career preparation, and deliver the knowledge and skills that employers want for careers today and in the future.
How is Pearson staying ahead of the changing work landscape?
At Pearson, we recognise that there is an important need to prepare people with the skills needed for the future world of work.
We recently commissioned the Future of Skills: Employment in 2030 report with researchers from Nesta and the Oxford Martin School. The importance of skills and a culture of lifelong continuous learning will be crucial to flourish in a changing world of work. Many jobs of the future have yet to be invented and it is likely that multiple careers will be the norm.
The report suggests that cognitive skills, such as critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and teamwork are likely to be in greater demand, while skills related to systems-orientated thinking, such as the ability to recognise, understand and act on complex sets of information such as judgment, decision-making, systems analysis and systems evaluation, will feature prominently.
In addition to these findings, we set up an independent task force, the Commission on Sustainable Learning for Work, Life and a Changing Economy, to explore what actions need to be taken to ensure the sector can meet the needs of our future economy. It found that the current education system, with its emphasis on academic knowledge struggles to instill a broad range of technical and career-focused skills amongst young people.
In light of all these significant changes, Pearson believes that we need a system that provides people with ladders and bridges to allow them to move between different routes – be it academic pathways, career-focused pathways or technical / work-based routes.
The Pearson BTEC qualification works alongside this because employers tell us so. They are rigorous, high-quality career-focused qualifications, that help learners to progress to higher education and the world of work.
In May 2019 Pearson / YouGov poll of employers showed that 80% of all employers have heard of BTECs and 78% of HNCs and HNDs. When hiring school leavers, 58% want an employee with a mixture of academic and professional / vocational skills, and 32% want them to have vocational skills only. Only 10% want school leavers with academic experience only.
How is technology innovating the learning landscape and changing your service delivery?
The world around us is transforming. New technology is changing how and what we need to learn and places a greater need to prepare people with the skills needed for the future world of work.
We know that the students of today will also increasingly need to apply their learning to multiple careers, which will soon become the norm. The need to develop skills to help us to flex, adapt and prepare for the yet to be imagined future will be essential.
In the last five to ten years, many new jobs have emerged or grown through the development of technology. For instance, the professional blogger – now a vlogger – the 3D print artist, the data mining engineer, or the cloud architect, to name but a few.
At Pearson, we need to ensure that we are preparing students with the flexible skills and knowledge they need to enter and succeed in the labour market. That’s why we are increasing the digital capabilities in our products and services to respond to the increasing demand for career-focused education.
Is the Apprenticeships system too complex? What needs to be done to raise the profile of apprenticeships throughout industry?
The apprenticeship system is currently going through a transition period and we all know that any new system takes time to integrate.
From speaking to employers, we know that they are taking the appropriate time to plan their apprenticeship strategy to ensure it provides the return on investment they are looking for.
At Pearson, we are supporting employers through this change and to promote the benefits of apprenticeships in order to raise their profile across the industry.
What are the biggest challenges you are facing in the delivery of apprenticeships and BTEC qualifications?
The major challenge for our apprenticeships business is with the transition from an ‘old’ to ‘new’ style apprenticeships model proving to be more problematic and slower to implement across the whole UK market. Despite these challenges, we are clear that a more niche and focussed apprenticeships offer will remain part of our portfolio as it is closely aligned to our broader career-focused education and employability strategy.
For the Pearson BTEC qualification, the biggest challenge is the UK government reforms.
The Government hopes that T Levels will become the qualification of choice for technical education, alongside A levels as the academic option.
We fully support the introduction of T Levels, and we are delivering two of the first three T Level qualifications from next September. However, T Levels are a separate and distinct qualification to BTEC, serving a different, more narrow, purpose. Students and employers agree that there is space for both options – T Levels and BTECs – and that the introduction of T Levels must not be at the expense of existing high-quality vocational options like Pearson BTEC.
We are not alone in thinking this. The Government’s own qualifications regulator, Ofqual, has said recently that there is a “risk” that a barrier to student progress may be created if alternative choices to T Levels and A Levels are “unduly restricted”. Other organisations, including the Association of School and College Leaders and Sixth Form Colleges Association agree. Furthermore, two new YouGov polls, of employers, and of young people, show an overwhelming desire for young people to keep their options open at 16 so that they have time to pursue academic and work-based qualifications before deciding on an exact career.
We must not destroy what’s already working in our current system – BTECs – which provide people with a pathway to higher education and career preparation, and deliver the knowledge and skills that employers want for careers today and in the future.
What does the future of BTEC and Apprenticeships hold? How do you see your role evolving?
I am incredibly excited about the future of BTEC and Apprenticeships.
As the focus deepens ever more on gaining flexible skills to prepare for the changing world of work, we are looking forward to continuing our work with schools and colleges to help students make progress in their lives through learning through vocational, technical and apprenticeship qualifications.
However, that doesn’t mean that we will grow complacent. We will continue to look at our digital capabilities and expertise to ensure that we are providing rigorous qualifications that enable students to be best prepared for the future of work.