by Alex Lockey
The short answer is, it’s invaluable. If you’re teaching a qualification that leads to an occupation then I would say personal experience within that industry is a vital part of your teaching repertoire. Why should your students listen to you about what it takes to work in engineering, for example, if you haven’t done it yourself?
Occupational competence means that you know the standards that you students will be held to, you know the pitfalls they may encounter as they enter the field, and you know the challenges they may need to overcome. It means that you have lots of personal experience that you can use to tailor your teaching to meet the needs of your topic, qualification and your students.
You may have lots of practical knowledge and skills that can be of real benefit to your students as well. In fact, that might be why you’ve decided to become a teacher: to pass on that knowledge and expertise you have to the next generation.
A teaching qualification will give you knowledge and theories for how to pass information and skills on to your learners, it will give you the opportunity to work alongside more experienced teachers and observe their techniques, as well as a safe place to develop your own teaching style. But it won’t give you the valuable insights gained from personal experience of being employed in the industry area or occupation your students are learning about.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to be taught and supported through a childcare qualification by someone who has never worked with children. Similarly, I wouldn’t want to be taught auto-mechanics by someone who was just reading it out from a textbook and had never been involved in fixing cars and other vehicles.
On the other hand, how important is it when teaching a subject which is less vocational, such as ESOL or Maths? In this case, employers are going to be more interested in your subject knowledge and teaching competence, rather than work you did before in an industry setting. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not important or useful if you are thinking of a career change.
Any previous employment will have provided you opportunities to test and develop your resilience, teamwork skills, communication skills, creative-thinking, problem-solving skills, and so on, all which are and will be relevant to working in FE.
Furthermore, if you are interested in teaching an FE subject but fancy working more in the community or with adults, then having previous or other employment other than a teacher or tutor can help you foster positive relationships and give you insights into the barriers facing learners, and hopefully also solutions to encourage motivation and engagement.
In conclusion, ‘occupational competence’ is vital if you are intending to teach a vocational subject or become a trainer/assessor but it will not be a hindrance and can in fact be a useful tool if you are teaching a more academic subject. The aim, though, is to become occupationally competent as a teacher as well. Someone who creates welcoming learning environments, pushes their students to strive for success and uses their imagination, knowledge and skills to create innovating, interesting and interactive sessions.