Jon Buglass, Vice Principal for Innovation, Planning and Performance at Edinburgh College

The pandemic has shown the importance of the health and care workforce. Yet, this is a sector that has an urgent need to fill skills gaps. Colleges have a big role to play in strengthening the current and future workforce, and in improving wider determinants of health. At Edinburgh College, we are learning lessons about how to do this in a collaborative and blended way.

The region’s health and social care workforce is projected to need to grow by 9% over the next decade. This growth is faster than the national workforce and the region’s overall economy. Colleges working together, and with the wider education system and health and care sector, can recruit, train, and reskill the workforce needed to support a healthy population. A significant collaborative response is needed, and we can learn from and build on work in other sectors.

At Edinburgh College, we embarked on building more strategic and sustainable relationships in a new collaborative framework through the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. This deal put skills firmly at the centre of this proposition and presented a new opportunity to address the skills needs of the region with a mechanism for funding that incentivises collaboration. It resulted in a collocation between four colleges to pool resources, investing in staff development, and co-creating and enhancing over 20 new courses in the space of six months. It allowed colleges to work flexibly with partners and to test out new thinking to respond in an agile way, whilst being driven by inclusive growth and employer demand.

Of course, colleges are just one piece of the skills puzzle. We are also working with local universities, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, Heriot-Watt University and Queen Margaret University, as well as the Datalab, local authorities, Department for Work and Pensions, Employability and Skills leads, the third sector, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council.

In the key regional sectors of Data Driven Innovation (DDI) and Housing, Construction and Infrastructure (HCI), research has enabled us to identify in detail the specific skills needs of relevant employers. We developed a ‘Jenga’ model to build progression, with the collective aim of building the new offer and avoiding duplication from the beginning. This involved matching skills needs with the skills offered through a coherent analysis of the college offer, the courses offered through Schools College Partnerships (SCP) and the collective offer of universities through to postgraduate programmes. This built an understanding of the resource required and how to collaborate with different partners to achieve it.

The health and social care sector must now be a priority. We are approaching key partners in this sector and across education and skills to collaborate with to achieve our ambition of meeting the skills needs to keep our population healthy.

We also have an opportunity to learn from our pace of change in using technology to engage with new and existing cohorts of learners. The Edinburgh College ‘Future Proof 2025’ curriculum has been working towards an ambition that all courses are built around a core of project-based and ‘work-integrated’ learning, developing the meta-skills that employers need. This would enable both the development of data literacy and greater experience through simulated work environments through virtual reality. For example, in areas such as dementia care, students can benefit by developing resilience through experiential deep learning to gain confidence before placement.

This is clearly an area where colleges and universities can and must collaborate. The newly formed Advanced Care and Health Centre (ACRC) at the University of Edinburgh allows us to develop the collaboration between tertiary institutions, where research, development and innovation will directly translate into skills delivery innovation by the College sector.

Colleges have shown their resilience, agility and capacity to innovate and collaborate during the pandemic. Frameworks like the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal must be catalysts for ensuring that we have the skills needed to recover. I am excited for Edinburgh College to lead and help build partnerships to respond to the economic recovery needed in the Health and Social Care sector, amongst the many others. Now is the time for the education and skills sector to come together, learn from this challenging time, and collaborate for the public good.

Imagine, too, colleges in new, symbiotic, relationships with business, industry, the third sector, and across the wider public sector, where they are delivering relevant transformative upskilling and reskilling throughout an employee’s career – and beyond work for an active retirement; where the system encourages and supports business and college co-investment and co-production; and where colleges can drive greater economic growth by more direct engagement with businesses to support step change improvement in performance and productivity. - The Cumberford-Little Report


Building the ‘Jenga tower’ in health and social care

  1. Mapping the regional curriculum together from SCQF levels 4-12
  2. Identifying the gaps in provision using employer input
  3. Identifying the resources required to fill the gaps and deliver new courses
  4. Identifying where staff skills gaps are and supporting the requirements
  5. Ensuring there is an ‘inclusive growth’ dimension to all work undertaken, with particular focus on opportunities for the hardest to reach, for example with shorter entry points to courses with regulatory requirements
  6. Creating different routes to employment, for example dual qualifications in Childcare and Health and Social Care to work across sectors
  7. Building inspiration activity for schools’ college partnerships, in order to develop the young workforce, avoiding youth unemployment, especially for those furthest to reach
  8. Building capacity for the use of new technologies in skills development

Jon Buglass, Vice Principal for Innovation, Planning and Performance at Edinburgh College
Jon has recently written the Edinburgh College Digital Strategy 2020/25, which aligns with the Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy, ‘Realising Scotland’s full potential in a Digital World’. Jon is currently a strategic lead for the Digital Skills Partnership, and an Associate Assessor for Education Scotland. Most recently, he has been working as a strategic lead for the regional Colleges within the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, developing the skills curriculum for Data Driven Innovation.

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