What skills do modern vocational teachers need?

Vocational teachers and trainers have long been considered ‘dual professionals’ in that they need two sets of professional skills. First, they need to be experts in teaching and learning; that is, pedagogical approaches. Second, they also need to be experts in their sector specialism. But is there a third set of skills that vocational teachers need?


Teachers and trainers need continued professional development to keep both sets of professional expertise up-to-date and improving – and to maintain a balanced dual identity. For the first pedagogical aspect, this may involve learning new approaches to formative assessment, new ways of using technology to ensure inclusive approaches to teaching or reflecting on their practice through peer observation. For the second, this may involve learning to use latest technological advances in the workplace, or developing understanding of new pressures facing their industry due to, for example, globalisation.

In different contexts around the world, there is different emphasis placed on these dual aspects, through recruitment, professional development and career progression. In some countries, teachers are recruited from industry, with their workplace portfolios being crucial to successful job applications; in others, it is their teaching qualification certificate that is of primary concern. Meeting the challenge of the dual profession is shared wherever the British Council work.

There are various challenges teachers and trainers face in prioritising continued professional development when faced with the numerous pressures of college life. This table, taken from a 2013 study by Janet Hamilton Broad, shows the ways in which teachers in England kept their sector specialist knowledge up to date:

Activities carried out by teachers for the purpose of subject updating. Table from 2013 study by Janet Hamilton Board, Doing it for themselves: A network analysis of vocational teachers' development of their occupationally specific expertise.

The report ‘It's about work’ by The Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning in 2013 found that access to industry standard facilities and resources was one of the key ways to maintain a clear ‘line of sight to work’ in the development and delivery of vocational courses. This suggests that teachers would benefit more from the types of activities that they are least able to carry out – such as shadowing professions and industry placements. 

Recently in the UK, there has been talk of ‘triple professionalism’: a third set of professional expertise that teachers and trainers require, to ensure that the skills they give to their learners are in line with the needs of the local, national and global workplace. Ann Hodgson, from the Institute of Education, has described this set of expertise and qualities, including:

  • Having an ethical concern for all young people and adults in the locality
  • Understanding the role of the college within the community and the local area
  • The capacity to research the community and local and regional needs in order to identify needs and bring about positive change
  • The ability to undertake multi-agency working and to collaborate with other professionals
  • Understanding of policy and how it translates in practice in the TVET system
  • Highly developed communication and people skills.