Vocational education: nurturing the workforce of the future

Marina Bowler Postlethwaite, Lead Trainer for Sport, Pearson
Catherine Hillhouse, Co-Trainer for Sport, Pearson


Marina welcomed the group and explained that Pearson are responsible for vocational education within schools, higher education and further education. The session aimed to explore the practical skills and knowledge vocational learners bring to higher education and the workplace, and why applied learning is so valuable.

By the end of the session Marina and Catherine wanted delegates to have gained an insight into the main skill set that Pearson include in their qualifications and the impact that these would have in meeting employer needs, developing transferable skills and preparing learners for real-world working environments.

Task 1

The session started with a task which aimed to look at the delegate’s views and perceptions of vocational education. To do this Marina split the tables into groups, to answer 3 key questions:

  • What makes vocational learners different?
  • Why is applied learning so valuable?
  • Why is vocational learning so important in the sports sector?

The delegates gave the following responses:

What makes vocational learners different?

  • A vocational learner has the opportunity for on the job learning.
  • Learners develop the skills to apply the theory they learn.
  • They have access to wider development opportunities than the typical education system, and benefit from different learning strategies.
  • They learn how to interact with the individuals they will be working with.
  • They are able to gain confidence and experience through participating in a vocational setting.
  • They are able to develop skills which are not taught in early learning environments.

Why is applied learning so valuable?

  • It is flexible and adaptable and so can be tailored to cater for a range of learners.
  • It provides the opportunity for assessment of both knowledge and skills.
  • It provides a practical learning experience where students learn from physical experience.
  • It teaches the knowledge and skills relevant to the performance of the job roles which the learner will then be able to fulfil.
  • It gives the opportunity to learn what works best for the individual and so refine their skills through practice.
  • It gives the opportunity for individuals to earn while they learn.
  • It provides the opportunity for learners to gain accreditation of their work experience to help support completion of assessment criteria.
  • It provides learners with the opportunity to draw evidence from multiple areas and in multiple forms to fulfil assessment criteria, as opposed to rigid assessment structures which may limit an individual’s potential to succeed.
  • It provides individuals with real world experiences which will foster career pathway progression and access to a range of job roles.

Why is vocational education so important in the sport sector?

  • In our sector, employers require learners to come out of education industry ready.
  • The sports sector is a people-centred industry.
  • As there is not an off the shelf, set career pathway for individuals in the sport sector, vocational education allows individuals to be in working environments, gaining a wide range of skills, which makes possible career opportunities clearer to learners and enables them to progress up the career ladder.

Task 2

Marina and Catherine explained that command verbs are embedded the assessment criteria for all Pearson vocational qualifications, to ensure students engage with them and are rewarded for demonstrating the necessary skills.

A selection of command verbs were placed on tables and the delegates were asked to discuss what they mean and how they can be of use in practical work situations.

The following responses were given:


  • Understand the learner and audience needs.
  • Tailor the information to suit prior knowledge and experience level
  • Get learners to arrive at their own methods – discovery over prescription.
  • If someone is unable to access what explain means, there is an immediate barrier.
  • Need a certain level of knowledge and skills to understand what explain is about and be
  • When a learner can explain something, they are then able to access the higher command verbs.


  • Understanding that failure is an opportunity for learning.
  • Have to create reflective practitioners.
  • Have to include time for evaluation in daily activities.
  • Constant improvement.
  • Important to highlight to learners how they meet the skill requirements as it is likely they will be completing these without realising it, as this will enable them to evaluate their practice effectively in the future.


  • Assessment of right and wrong.
  • Based on having a sufficient level of underpinning knowledge.
  • Have to be able to assess situational needs to determine what is needed to meet these and move the practice forward.

It is important that command verbs are clarified in the vocational education setting to prepare learners for deployment with employers. The command verbs help students understand what is needed from them in order to be effective practitioners, and are consistent across vocational qualifications, creating a high standard of practice that is applicable to all learners.

Task 3

This task was aimed to highlight how employers can be involved in the vocational learning process and provide evidence to support learners in meeting assessment criteria.

The following evidence was deemed acceptable for submission in a learner’s portfolio:

  • Completion of structured work experience or work placements that develop skills.
  • Completion of projects, exercises and/or assessments/examinations set with input from industry practitioner
  • Undertake one or more units delivered or co-delivered by an industry practitioner. This could take the form of master classes or guest lectures.
  • Industry practitioners operating as ‘expert witnesses’ that contribute to the assessment of a learner’s work or practice, operating within a specified assessment framework. This may be specific projects, exercises or examinations, or all assessments for a qualification.

At present the following evidence was not deemed acceptable for submission in a learner’s portfolio:

  • Employers’ or industry practitioners’ input to the initial design and content of a qualification.
  • This is not the student’s work and so it cannot be assessed.
  • Employers hosting visits, providing premises, facilities or equipment.
  • Marina explained that the learner’s skills are not being developed through this and a general visit would not provide the evidence needed.
  • Employers or industry practitioners providing talks or contributing to delivery on employability, general careers advice such as CV writing, and interview training.
  • Marina explained that this does not link to the individual’s assessment.
  • Simulated or provider-based working environments.
  • At present this is not an acceptable form of evidence due to the quality and accuracy of simulated learning environments.
  • Learner attendance at career fairs, events or other networking opportunities.
  • Employers providing students with job references.

Task 4

The final task provided an insight into the skill types which delegates believed are needed from vocational learners to prepare them for employment after graduation.

It was highlighted that employers are hiring new staff based on character and culture and so it is important to train students with the right attitude to enter a workplace and commit to succeeding in that environment. This would come from students being resilient and able to adapt and develop from feedback, being self-aware and having a high level of emotional intelligence.

From an employer’s perspective it is also important that

individuals are able to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, with people at a range of different levels. The importance of soft skill development was also considered key, as employers require individuals to be competent in timekeeping, organisation and work etiquette.

Vocational assessment

Marina and Catherine explained that vocational qualifications encourage learners to apply their learning in in realistic contexts, using scenarios and realistic activities, that will permit learners to draw on and apply their learning. As such vocational education uses a combination of internal, synoptic and external assessment and therefore assesses individuals on a large range of skills.

It was highlighted that synoptic assessment fosters the development of softer skills as it requires learners to demonstrate that they can identify and use effectively, in an integrated way, an appropriate selection of skills, techniques, concepts, theories and knowledge from across the whole sector.

Closing messages

Marina shared the newest qualifications that Pearson are delivering (see slide 16) and the different pathways available on the course. These courses aim to nurture and educate the workforce to provide employers with the best people for the job. Our qualification has been mapped to CIMSPA’s professional standards demonstrating that Pearson are helping provide employers with the graduates that are work ready and what employers are looking for.

Incorporated by Royal Charter Charity registration number 1144545

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