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Local London leaders gather to celebrate collaboration

On 26 March 2024, senior leaders from across the Local London partnership gathered with supplier partners and employers for a day of learning, collaboration and celebration.

The one-day event, hosted and supported by Ravensbourne University and the University of East London, included talks from partners and a workshop to develop future ideas and commitments in support of the Local London LSIF across the digital and green skills workstreams.

Andy Cook, Vice Chancellor of Ravensbourne University opened proceedings with a call to arms, vigorously expressing the university’s openness to building new partnerships. He gave an overview of Ravensbourne’s rapidly growing reputation in creative industries, rooted in digital 20 or 30 years ago and evolving today across the entire creative economy.

“We are really thinking about digital transformation to embrace the new wave of technologies and courses for the future,” said Andy. “We are supporting young people to be the leaders of tomorrow. Internally we have to make sure both staff and students are really getting the digital skills they need. This is a journey many organisations have been on for a while – and it goes across every department: recruitment, financial processes… bringing all those much closer to a digital experience.”

Andy shared his insights into the new Industry 4.0 technologies that are really transforming the world at the moment, as reflected by the investment that Ravensbourne has made into its new offerings. For example, the new facility for emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning and mixed reality will bring benefits to all its students, whatever they may be studying – from fashion to architecture and everything in between.

Principal project advisor Mark O’Reilly of Just Ask Scarlett introduced the day’s workshops and sessions, having project managed the Local London LSIF partnership with his colleague John Murphy.

Mark and John introduced the theme of the day as “Rising to the challenge”, given that the event marked the milestone of the end of phase one of the project.

“We talked to a number of employers at the beginning,” John said. “We asked them: ‘what are your skills challenges?’ A theme that emerged from them was that skills are more important than qualifications. Controversial? Some even said quals are almost irrelevant! For example, some graduate architects are coming out of their course into employment but not able to use industry standard tech.

“To meet employer needs this project looked at two things: digital skills and green skills – and the intersection between the two.”

ΩJohn described the Local London partnership as the world’s largest collaborative network of its kind, given that this consortium of colleges and skills providers covers 23 sites and has access to leading edge immersive technology to allow delivery across multiple locations at the same time. The partnership allows the group to offer some of the direct skills and very importantly micro credentials to show that these are bona fide recognised, accredited standards of learning.

John summed up his introduction to the day: “If phase one was about investing the LSIF grant, then phase two has to be about embedding that investment in our organisations. And phase three is about how we use that investment to work for us better, become more efficient, provide better provision to employers and learners. Today is about coming up with that plan. And remember staff CPD and training – like the oxygen masks on a plane. We need to have our own skills to the requisite standard before we can deliver to others.”

Andrew Johnson from BIM Academy was the first partner to take the stage and tell his story. With a personal background of 27 years in construction, 24 of which with the Royal Engineers, and 21 of which teaching, Andrew is now L&D head at BIM Academy.

BIM Academy is a centre of excellence for Building Information Modelling that operates in 20 countries, operating research projects, sponsoring PhD students, supporting 12 industries, with over 10,000 people trained and £10bn worth of projects to its name. Highlights include the Sydney Opera House digital twin project, and the transformation of BMW’s manufacturing footprint.

Andrew explained his L&D function, taking in building safety training, information management, MMC advisory, strategy, research, sustainability training and consultancy. And contrary to popular belief, BIM is not just used in architecture, but also industries as varied as infrastructure, mining and asset management.

Andrew talked about how BIM Academy is working with the Local London partnership and LSIF: “We have seen FE coming in to support HE – we’re looking to expand from Level 2 all the way to PhDs. Links between education and industry are critical – digital consultancy means we can put real life project case studies into our teaching and learning – which our competitors can’t do.

“Working with Local London, Just Ask Scarlett and OCN, we have started making micro credentials covering all courses and pathways, and created specifications and badges for specific skills. How do we actually push this out to industry? We have created our own Learning Management System so they will have access to modules and pathways.”

Ando Eniwumide from Happaning gave an employer’s perspective as a UK startup. He shared his personal journey of navigating the skills landscape and how it has impacted his business – with some insights into how enterprise and academia can interact better.

“I took an unorthodox route into entrepreneurship,” he explained. “I was an orphan on a council estate, but was lucky enough to go to great schools and have the opportunity to get employment in great organisations. I was lucky to get dyslexia support, and became an inventor, travelling the world on trade missions, and well embedded in startup ecosystems in UK and overseas.”

Happaning tackles mistrust and disinformation as AI rises in media. A video platform using principles of citizen journalism, crowdsourcing and location tagging, it gives users better trust, authenticity and access to truth. At its early stage it has already built relationships with universities, funders, partners and microinfluencers; has attracted awards and endorsements, and some very powerful PR with endorsements from Pharrell Williams, Richard Branson and Techcrunch.

On navigating skills shortages, Ando expanded: “I got out of university and realised I didn’t use much if any of that course. Most skills I learned on the job. The most important thing I got from education was the aptitude to learn skills, not the skills themselves. Today we’re in a weird position where we’re actually learning from our candidates and students, such as how to better connect with audiences over social media. There’s emerging a collaborative relationship between industry, institutions and the students themselves. And the role of this collaboration isn’t to fill skills gaps now, but to fill future skills gaps.”

The first workshop session gave the room the chance to engage in a lively discussion on the question “what’s next?” – and elicited a wide variety of perspectives from individuals representing the different colleges and centres. For example, the theme of funding constraints on the 16-19 curriculum versus the greater freedom in the adult world. We are moving towards time spent with employers on work placements, focusing on shifting delivery – experience, mentoring, contact with industry – and less about classroom experience.

Paul Stephen from Newham College added: “There are three other things we’ll get from this partnership:

  1. Progression pathways
  2. Communicating our offer
  3. Using this as a joined-up way of speaking to businesses about skills needs. Not unilateral but combined.

Mark O’Reilly agreed about the collaborative joined up approach to employers: “How do we get over the competitive conflicts of interests that inevitably exist between colleges and providers?” He asked – reinforcing this very important theme that cannot be undervalued, especially since this group has already so successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of its collaboration.

“Make sure the paperwork is right!” was one suggestion. “Maybe we need to invest in a central facility to act as an independent coordinator / Quality Assurer to keep true collaboration going?” Glen Lambert from Newham College expanded on this: “We need to think about how we centralise things. As an employer I don’t want to worry who delivers what I need best, I want to know no matter where I go or send employees the training they receive is of the same high quality.  Do we need a central skills delivery matrix for employers and other colleges to be part of and access perhaps? If so, who creates, updates and runs this – and where does this sit?”

Liz Lake of LSEC expanded on the earlier point from Ando Eniwumide on how teaching and learning are not just one-way: “When we identify what digital actually means, and explore all the different levels of digital and changing models of thinking, we see that it’s not just about what we are teaching but what message is coming back. There is so much that young people can teach organisations.”

Keeping momentum going was a key theme. We have seen much success at senior leadership level but what about communities of practice? One idea was to use the size of population across the Local London region to really drive conversations with employers. “We need to be doing it at digital lead level and student to student level to really drive collaboration.”

On the subject of how centres plan to spend their revenue for this project, the discussion turned to what sort of training and at what level. It was agreed that as well as upskilling and training senior leadership teams, there is an equal need at grass roots level, to train staff and develop their competencies.

The next session covered digital technology for teaching & learning, and education management systems. The visiting speakers presented insights into best practice and new and emerging technologies such as augmented reality and virtual environments in learning and teaching, and learner management platforms.

Vikki Liogier, EdTech & Education Digital Capability Consultant, presented Teachermatic.

Having previously been national head of edtech and digital skills at Education and Training Foundation, Vikki today consults on the adoption and integration of edtech and brought to this event her experiences of using Teachermatic. This is an intuitive AI platform for educators, designed to help teaching staff produce resources and conduct admin better and more efficiently. This technology is constantly developing based on feedback from users – allowing them for example to write units for courses. “From scratch you get a scheme of work, lesson plans, questions, activities, presentations – all you have to do is apply your expertise to it. After all, it’s easier to augment than to create. No fear of the blank page means you save huge amounts of time.”

Samantha O’Leary from Tablet Academy took to the stage to showcase how we can build digital life skills into our learning design, look after wellbeing of staff, and allow them to focus on the job they’re there to do: teach. “Meaningful use of digital tools in education, sustainable change, it’s about making staff feel empowered to embrace the new technologies that are available. We have to build mindset around adaptability to change – which starts with us the educators.”

Samantha shared a demo of the TA On Demand product. A live Tablet Academy Assistant, to answer questions, offer advice and support via online chat, or book some training. Unlike a chatbot, this is a 9-5 access to a real person that can unlock online learning content, quick tips videos, Google and Microsoft suites. Users can also book unlimited 20-min training sessions or support calls.

Natalie Ashman, head of FE and Apprenticeships at Ravensbourne University
closed this session with her personal passion around equity, social mobility and authentic forms of education. She talked about core values of connection, digital creativity and inclusion.

On the subject of project centred learning and social impact, Natalie explained: “We may be training a particular tier of people but mustn’t assume we have that knowledge in the room. Look for co-creation between staff and students – techniques and mindsets. How? An enrichment programme might be needed: a pastoral programme to support soft skills, being aware of issues like digital poverty/access. Ethical and responsible resourcing of skills means looking at neurodiversity, accessibility, curriculum design about what’s essential – qualifications versus skills is a theme that comes up again.”

The second workshop session returned to round tables on the topic of action planning. John Murphy issued the challenge: “How do we fund and resource the next steps? How will we produce and practically roll out our business plan? What do the strategy, pathway and longer-term plan look like?”

Discussions began with how to resource, structure, and tangibly do things to support organisations of different sizes. Shared services such as bid writing and data sharing may need to be bootstrapped over the next 12 months, but other shared facilities such as immersive spaces around the network are already there for the taking.

Returning to the topic of collaboration and overcoming internal conflicts of interests, further ideas emerged: accountability is key – specifically how we hold ourselves and each other accountable, such as setting targets for collaboration and reporting around it to each other. Perhaps identify and incentivise those colleges and “champions” that prove to be best at collaborating, so as to set an example to others? Paul Stephen expanded:

“We need to set KPIs that are nothing to do with funders. Define some measures of success and report back to each other. It will be important to remain disciplined about collecting impact data. Also, there is no ‘owner’ of the space we’re exploring here – maybe a few private providers – so we don’t need to worry about market share. But if we don’t collaborate, other entities are going to get in there.”

Liz Lake reminded the group that if the need for certain central resources is agreed upon, we must not forget that there may be options for funding this: “Could we all resource a central budget for a neutral project team that sits across the whole group? We collectively cover 2.2 million people in a huge area. Perhaps the GLA could fund a project that we jointly submit a bid for? There are 23 partners involved in this, and the DfE said the strength of collaboration really shone out in our initial LSIF bid. We could jointly write to them and ask for help to run a pilot project next year?”

Finally, on the subject of communications, Oliver Chesher of Galibier PR added: “We have talked a lot about the success of internal communication between the partners, but the group should also not underestimate the effectiveness of its external communications. Tactics such as news announcements in local papers and feature interviews in the likes of FE Week are essential assets for the success of the project. This work will enhance public understanding, political support, employer awareness and reputation for best practice across the wider education sector – and none of it would be possible without the collaborative spirit of the partnership.”

The afternoon session was introduced by Glen Lambert, Local London green project lead. Entitled “Building Sustainable Futures: A Holistic Approach to Green Skills and Environmental Sustainability”, this final session focused on the multifaceted landscape of green skills and environmental sustainability beyond traditional sectors. The group explored how to foster a comprehensive understanding of strategies, practices, and opportunities for individuals and organisations to contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.

Glen’s introduction looked more closely at the topic of microcredentialling: “We have already created over 20 new microcredentials and a suite of new quals from level 3 to level 6. We have ten new retrofit training centres, where learners can develop the essential skills for industries from wind turbines to heat pump installation. The microcredentials make up a set of flexible resources, which we are able to offer to be verified and assured either by an employer or a manufacturer.”

David Pierpoint, CEO of the Retrofit Academy joined Glen on stage to offer the perspective of a partner provider – in his case offering the necessary opportunities and skills for learners to get into the retrofit industry, which as he demonstrated is an essential part of the nation’s Net Zero strategy: “The 2050 Net Zero target requires an 80% reduction of emissions from the 1990 baseline. That’s a lot of retrofit that needs to happen – which is going to need a whole lot of new people: 400,000 trained professionals in fact – to fit building fabric and renewable energy technology to some 27 million homes. Some fairly quick growth is coming but don’t expect an overnight miracle, strategic long-term commitment is needed. The graph shows that the workforce needs to double in size every 12 months!”

The Retrofit Academy is a franchised training network that acts as an advisor to the major political parties and has already trained over 7000 learners. David gave further insight into how the partnership between his organisation and Local London is working: “Government funding is already pledged for this. We create all the content, learner assessment, support, and handling any pain points. You (the colleges and centres) have to find the market.

“But we contribute a lot to the marketing too. For example, at the trade show Futurebuild we run the Retrofit Zone, which we have grown to a ‘standing room only’ level of popularity. We share a marketing toolkit with all our partners, and finally we must not overlook the fact that as a franchise we have an established, recognisable brand in the market.”

Paul Parkinson from Supply Chain Sustainability School returned to the central theme of collaboration, with his observations of how it is already working from the point of view of his organisation: “We have developed a Future Workforce Group, made up of a mix of colleges and construction partners across the UK. We already have over 4000 sustainability-focused learning resources, we’ve developed 60 of our own e-learning modules, and run 300 workshops or webinars a year. Users can login for free access to use the resources that the partnership has funded.”

Paul’s story served as an encouraging rallying cry to the 23 partners represented at today’s event: “We have brought together over 200 organisations, many of whom are in direct competition with each other day by day. But with us, they leave their weapons at the door and work together for the greater good of sustainability.”

The final workshop session – focusing on green skills – closed the day with some upbeat and robust statements of intent: “There should be no limits set on what skills we can offer, or to whom.”

For example, the point was raised about the need to work backwards to the very beginning; and to broaden out this skills agenda to make it truly universal. It was acknowledged that at this stage, we may have more questions than answers – and these questions are important to address.

“What work readiness and softer skills do we need from feeder institutions? What level 1 and 2 do we need to get the right people in to hit those ambitions targets and realise this commitment? We also need to work at a higher level to include the green agenda into every possible qualification. Future proofing every industry by including sustainability on every curriculum, for everybody. Should it be a unit of a qual, or a standalone requirement? How is it going to be funded? Keeping the green skills agenda high on people’s radar requires keeping it front of mind.”

Also, of course, when addressing such questions and ambitions, we must consider teaching resource. Could this be delivered on a shared model? How might we scale up? How do we attract and motivate talented teachers? Having established that we can collaborate by trusting each other on sharing resources and timetabling, we will learn to collaborate in other ways.

In summary, in response to the issue of shared resource and centralised coordination to drive collaboration, it was agreed that we all need a vision and a plan. Does this become our “skills charter” that we all sign up to, with a range of KPIs and covenants?

Gaurav Malik, Director of Education and Experience at the University of East London, closed the event with his observations on the topics of discussion:

“Green is not just about tech – what’s so exciting about it is putting our money where our mouth is. We’ll be carbon neutral by 2030: we invite you all to come and see how, for example our new facility that’s built with green materials like sugar cane.

“As a London collaboration we need to work a lot more closely than we already do. Rather than poaching from each other, if we can get people equipped with the expertise to work across the geography, that could be the answer.”

John Murphy set the group one final challenge. “Let’s get everyone back in here in 12 months and all share what we’ve achieved. Accountability!”


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