Friday, 26 August 2016

It may be risky business but innovation shouldn’t be easy

Risk isn’t normally a word that you’d associate with the world of further education, but it is one you would associate with innovation.

I’ll make this clear right now; I have deep admiration for those who are willing to take risks in order to innovate. Whether that’s in the FE sector or elsewhere, pushing boundaries in order to build better outcomes is neither easy, nor always rewarding. But when it pays off, it can genuinely raise standards for whole sectors.

The world of FE does take risks, and of this I’m proud. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by other sector leaders who’ve been brave enough to push forward and help innovate. But it’s not a simple process in this sector, and too often the consequences of failure may appear too great for an FE leader, to be worth taking the risk. After all, how many Principals have remained in post after suffering an inadequate rating by Ofsted? And how simple is it, in a sector with a tight funding regime to take a risk – however calculated – on something which might not work. I know first-hand that it isn’t easy, and I believe it can drive other FE leaders away from taking on the challenges of our sector through innovating. Sometimes though, an inadequate rating or wrestling with funding challenges have to be the price paid by those brave enough to be the first to do something.

I’m proud to say our College has taken risks throughout its history. There have been a number of risks – some which have paid off, and others which haven’t. Who, after all, could forget the time we opened a training centre at an airport which then promptly closed its runway for the last time. But that’s the struggle – we weren’t aware the airport was going to close at the time we started planning for the centre; in fact, all indications were that it would be successful, and there would be plenty of investment in the area. The positive thing was that the College was willing to take that risk in order to more closely marry our skills curriculum with what local business demands.

That failure highlights just how innovation isn’t always easy – after all, if it were, everybody would be doing it and it would cease to be innovative. Often it takes multiple attempts before there’s any success whatsoever, and there’s certainly never a guarantee that pioneering ideas will work out.
You also need to be clever about how you innovate in further education – there needs to be some degree of crystal ball gazing, and a genuine understanding of the communities you’re working in, and your local economy. Marrying skills delivery and local economies is never an easy task, but it’s an important one.
The Yarrow hotel is a risk, but will benefit students enormously 
We’ve recently taken a huge risk, opening the first ever training hotel which is owned and operated by a further education college. The Yarrow will provide a proving ground for our hospitality and catering programme areas, giving them the best possible experience to take out into the world of work. And I do believe that will marry with our local needs, situated as the hotel is in one of the country’s tourist hotspots, and a place where the local economy is crying out for skilled hospitality and catering employees. Despite those beliefs of mine, it is nonetheless a risk. If it pays off, it’ll be an incredible opportunity for our learners, as well as a real asset to the local economy, adding value to its current offer. And you know what; if it doesn’t succeed – and I truly don’t believe that will happen – we’ll pick ourselves up, and start work on our next innovation. That’s what this sector must be all about; continuing to strive for excellence.

Students will get to experience a vibrant, high quality live work environment, gaining new skills
The world of FE needs more people taking risks, and it needs more leaders willing to walk away from their comfort zone. We’re in a real period of rapid change, and if we are to truly make the progress which our students deserve, then leaders must continue delivering the innovation which will make further education the finest possible offer available.

So long live the pioneers, the innovators and those who are willing to take a risk in order to drive up standards, and drive forward further education, and I hope we see more of them as we all move forward together in this wonderful, vibrant sector.

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