Five minutes with Sally Dicketts CBE

Five minutes with Sally Dicketts CBE

Sally Dicketts knows the power of education, having spent her entire career working in the sector.

In 2003 she became Principal of Oxford & Cherwell Valley College. She has since led the transformation of the organisation, from a single college to a group comprising three further education colleges, four schools, an apprenticeship and training company, and an international presence in Saudi Arabia, China, Malaysia and Myanmar.

These organisations are united by a common aim – to transform lives through learning

“Everybody is aiming for a meaningful life”

Very few people have a meaningful life if they don’t have meaningful employment. People go to university because they believe that not only are they going to have fun, but that it will give them a better job than leaving school at 18. It is so disappointing that a lot of graduates don’t find meaningful employment because they don’t know how to engage and get that job in the first place. What we say to our students is that by coming to us and working with us, we will make you more employable.

“Education should be able to serve everybody”

I was a failed learner as a child – I have dyslexia and failed my 11-plus. I was put in a remedial stream in secondary school and spent the whole of my secondary education moving from form to form. It was only thanks to a very supportive family that I went on to higher education. I thought that the education system shouldn’t be like that and I had a mission to change it.

“Meaningful employment is about reaching above your starting point”

If you’re from a family that has never been employed, if you start on a trajectory where you’re working on a training scheme – that is meaningful employment. Of course, it will differ for everyone based on their own sets of values and starting points, but meaningful employment is at heart about aspiration. It is about having the skills and wherewithal to drive your own career forward.

“A vibrant economy engages everyone in the community, not just a minority”

There is obviously an economic strand to a vibrant community, where communities are contributing to GDP across a diverse range of sectors. But there is a huge social aspect, too. Certainly, if you take parts of the South East, where we have great GDP per capita and good productivity levels, you only have 20% of that community really succeeding. So a vibrant economy is one where everybody is contributing to the economics of their community.

“Employment is global, not just local or national”

When you understand what is happening globally then you realise that we have to prepare our young people differently for the world of work, in order for them to achieve meaningful employment. What I mean by the global picture is that virtually all of our small and medium-sized companies will feed into a supply chain that feeds in somewhere other than Britain. Central government tends to look at the job shortages as they currently stand in local communities and prioritise those roles, without seeing the bigger picture.

“Gender equality is hugely important to business”

I am the chair of the Women’s Leadership Network and we recently had a senior female from Sodexho speak to us. She leads their school division, and all the research they have done globally proves that the more mixed your senior team, the more mixed your board, the better off financially you are, as you will have a business that performs better.

“Business needs to work with education to co-create career pathways”

If you’re a business, your future employees are sitting in primary schools now, so you need to be thinking about the essence of what you will need by the time they come into the workforce. Business and educators need to work more closely to identify those skills because those are skills that you can’t pick up overnight. We plan on a very short term basis [in this country]…we get an oversupply of skills in one area, we panic, and then we completely flip our education policy, dropping whatever we were just focused on. You see that with STEM education at the moment. I predict that in eight years you will see a shortage of arts and creative graduates.

“I don’t believe in revolution, I believe in evolution”

We have a campus out in Saudi Arabia and I have asked myself, should we be working in Saudi? We have faced cultural issues around women when we have been working in Saudi Arabia, but I think it’s always better to influence change in a positive way rather than be negative and sit on the sidelines. I don’t think you can get positive change unless you try and influence it in the right way.

“Technology will revolutionise further education”

You can already use virtual reality to train as a dentist and a pilot, and utility suppliers have already started to use it to train their fitters. So if everything is going to go virtual reality, then you’ve got to look at how you’re going to educate people differently in that world. Increasingly, as an educational provider, you will be helping people work in a team and understand how to work together, both physically and online. I suspect that once we’re all plugged in with our avatars, interpersonal skills will become even more important.