Leadership Insights

Bridging the Skills Gap in Further Education: A Candid Talk with Paul Hibbin

May 19, 2024

Table of Contents


After launching a successful career in the hospitality industry and owning several restaurants, I realised the demanding and antisocial hours were taking a toll on my ability to spend quality time with my young family.

Struggling to balance my professional and personal life, I decided to make a significant change. I chose to leave the restaurant business behind to prioritise my family and took the opportunity to move into further education. I became a lecturer in Hospitality and Catering at a college in Kent.

This role has allowed me to pass on my extensive knowledge, skills, and experiences to the younger generation, helping them embark on their own careers in the industry. It has been incredibly rewarding to guide and inspire students, knowing I was contributing to the future of hospitality.

This started my journey into the world of FE and Apprenticeships.

Why did you choose a career in further education?

After spending many years in the hospitality industry and building successful businesses, I gained significant experience in recruiting staff, particularly chefs. I often hired young talent directly from colleges.

However, I noticed a troubling trend: many of these college leavers were entering the workforce without the basic skills necessary to embark on their career journeys successfully. Motivated by this gap in essential skills, I decided to transition into education. After I became a lecturer in Hospitality and Catering, my goal was to ensure that students were equipped with the skills and knowledge that the industry demands.

By drawing from my extensive experience, I aimed to prepare them thoroughly for their careers, helping them start on the pathway to success in the hospitality industry.

Tell us about a notable early experience in your career

After starting my first role with an Apprenticeship provider as an Assessor, I was asked to leverage my career experiences to support the development of new apprenticeship programs for a major supermarket retailer. This opportunity involved working directly with the awarding body and the retailer's Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to develop content and design the curriculum & delivery strategy. Subsequently, I was tasked with building a team to enable the national delivery of these apprenticeship programs, which led to my first leadership role within the apprenticeship sector.

How have you developed your career as a leader in further education?

Throughout my career, I have attended numerous training and development courses and programmes. However, I have found that the best way to advance my career is by learning from my peers and asking them to share their strategies and knowledge.

This approach has also helped me identify misconceptions about leadership.

I believe my career in leadership has flourished by adopting the following strategies:

- Recruiting the right people for the right role.

- Building diverse teams.

- Listening.

- Putting the team first.

- Strong communication.

- Allowing team members to have a voice .

- Encouraging proactivity.

Additionally, continuously improving my knowledge of the sector and understanding the rules and regulations governing it have significantly contributed to my career progression.

Tell us about some key achievements in your career

Throughout my career, I've achieved several key milestones. Some notable examples include the successful design of new curriculums, building effective teams, and expanding our provision, particularly in Higher Education Degree Apprenticeships.

However, the highlight of my career has to be assembling an exceptional team that drove quality, retention, and growth in Higher Education Apprenticeships. This effort led to a "Significant Progress" rating and subsequently a "Good" outcome in the provider's first full inspection.

What have been the biggest challenges you've faced in your career and how did you overcome them?

I have been very fortunate in my career to have faced challenges that are similar to those experienced by many leaders within the Further Education and Apprenticeship sector. When these challenges arise, I focus on the issue at hand, engage in discussions with colleagues, seek the right support if needed, and persistently work towards finding a solution.

The key is to remain determined and proactive in overcoming obstacles.

What are your thoughts on improving the further education sector?

Where do I begin...

In all seriousness there are many aspects of the FE/Apprenticeship sector I feel could be improved.

The main one for me personally is the inclusion of Functional Skills within apprenticeships, particularly within the Higher Education fields. It’s a hot topic, should they remain or should they be removed. I’ll leave that there for now .

What advice would you give to aspiring leaders in further education?

Believe in your ability as a professional, an individual and a leader.

Treating others with respect for both the role they are undertaking and as individuals is crucial. Embrace diversity within your team, communicate effectively, and be decisive—even if it means taking risks when necessary. Develop and build trust across your team.

For me, in particular, it's essential to listen and allow your team to have a voice

Find out more

You can find Paul on LinkedIn so connect and follow him there.

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Alex Lockey
Director | Bolt Jobs
Founder Alex Lockey is an expert in further education, learning, and skills sector. He leads cost-effective hiring solutions and is known for successful talent placements. Dynamic and driven, Alex seeks innovative solutions to solve sector hiring challenges.