Q&A with Alex Coyle - Head of Skern Training & Skills
Alex Coyle is Head of Skern Training and Skills STS, the apprenticeship training arm of outdoor education provider Inspiring Learning. Alex started his career in catering and worked in the sector for around 10 years, progressing to management level. Then, 15 years ago, he took the decision to change direction and retrain as an outdoor learning instructor, and this career shift set him on the path to his current leadership role at STS.
What was your first job?
Working in a restaurant kitchen as a commis chef, as a teenager and straight out of school. From there, I went on to work in other catering and hospitality establishments. Being based in the Bath/Bristol area of southwest England, there were always plenty restaurants and cafés looking for someone with my sector experience and skills.
I really enjoyed working in this sector and learned a number of life and professional skills that have served me well in many different ways – for example, good time management, the ability to multitask effectively, and – crucially - developing a strong customer service commitment and ethos.
What brought you to your current role?
After a decade in catering and hospitality I decided I wanted different things from my work life so I upped sticks and spend six months retraining in outdoor education on Dartmoor and in North Wales. I wanted to work in a role still developing others, keeping fit as part of work and be outdoors after years in kitchens and restaurants, outdoor education ticked all the boxes. After working in various parts of the UK, I secured a position here at Skern Lodge in Devon as an outdoor instructor.
After Skern Lodge initially became part of the Inspiring Learning Group in 2016, I was subsequently given the opportunity to lead the Group’s ambition to develop Skern’s apprenticeship offering, whilst also continuing delivery of its early career and skills programmes. This involved establishing Skern as a national main provider on the governments Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP). For me, one of the main drivers of job satisfaction is being able to work with people to support their development, so to take on the role of driving Skern initiatives in apprenticeships and early career training further was a great fit.
What does your job involve?
The main focus of my role is the oversight and leadership of our national further education courses, also delivering early career, talent programmes and skills development courses across a broad range of sectors.
I also advise and support other Inspiring Learning projects, whilst always ensuring that the culture developed at Skern is reflected in our teams located across the country. Another central requirement of my job is to be familiar with updates and new initiatives from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and the Department for Education, whilst also staying on top of the evolving policy changes coming out of the Government skills sector, helping employers and learners to take advantage of what’s on offer.
What skills do you need for this?
STS’s provision of apprenticeships, early career, talent programmes and skills courses require a strong ability to recruit, develop and retain high quality individuals and teams. People are the core of all that we achieve. The role also requires managing process, policy and tenders. It helps to have multi-sector knowledge and understanding along with organisational development and senior leadership skills. Patience, resilience and the ability to self-manage whilst remaining approachable help immensely. It is important to consistently celebrate success and retain an openness to identify both strength and weakness. For me, with good collaboration, honesty, trust, humour and a clear focus you can’t go far wrong.
What's your favourite thing about the job - where do you get job satisfaction?
I really enjoy working with people to develop their potential. So the job satisfaction comes from helping to create lifelong learning, career pathways and experiences for people of all abilities and ages – and that’s both our clients and our staff. I find a lot of fulfilment in developing an organisation that people enjoy being a part of, and can progress in, whilst achieving a good balance of home and work life.
What would you say to somebody considering a complete career change into apprenticeship training or the outdoor learning sector?
Look at all the skills you’ve developed in the course of your working life – not just qualifications and certificates – and focus on those that are transferable. That might include multi-tasking, client handling, project management or sector expertise. You will almost certainly find you have all kinds of experience that translates into a career in apprenticeship training and/or outdoor learning. Make a clear plan, take external advice if possible - and be brave!