“It doesn’t matter what you want to be, it’s who you want to be that’s important.” David Gallagher of NCFE shares his advice on the importance of being the best version of yourself, but always being yourself.
What is it the company does?
NCFE is a national awarding organisation with a strong heritage going back over 170 years. Passionate about designing, developing and certificating diverse, nationally recognised qualifications and awards, NCFE is at the forefront of technical education and has contributed to the success of millions of learners at all levels.
A registered educational charity, NCFE is proud to be recognised for exceptional customer service and sector-leading expertise. NCFE offers an extensive portfolio of NCFE and CACHE branded qualifications covering a wide range of products and services for leaners of all ages across many subject areas and specialisms.
NCFE is also a registered Apprenticeship End-Point Assessment (EPA) Organisation, specialising in health, care, childcare and education programmes. The NCFE family of businesses also includes Skills Forward, which offers online diagnostics to support the successful delivery of Functional Skills, and Peer Tutor, a new platform offering high quality, on-demand, tech-enabled peer-to-peer tutoring support at low cost.
NCFE is committed to changing the lives of learners and supporting people to progress and achieve. The organisation’s purpose is to ‘advance and promote learning’ – with a particular focus on social mobility; supporting those who need it most to improve their career and life chances through learning.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I lead NCFE including NCFE Awarding, Apprenticeship Services, Skills Forward and Peer Tutor. My role involves me shaping the strategy and cultivating the culture of the organisation, developing the leadership and management team to be the very best they can be. I also play a leading role in the growth and continuous development of our business, balancing our social purpose and commercial objectives to ensure that we continue to make a significant impact on the lives of learners of all ages.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I joined NCFE in 2018 as managing director of NCFE Apprenticeship Services, leading a new team to deliver End-Point Assessment (EPA) solutions across a range of subject areas. I have since moved into my new role as chief executive at NCFE.
I have enjoyed a successful career in education, apprenticeships and skills for over 15 years. This has included working in the public sector for the Learning and Skills Council (now ESFA), several private sector training providers and also through establishing several successful new business startups within the sector.
In a previous role, I held a board position as group commercial director at Babington, a professional training organisation based in the Midlands. I also led the reshaping of the organisation and its proposition in response to the Apprenticeship Reform Agenda and emerging market opportunities. I successfully oversaw significant growth of the business, primarily though securing a variety of major corporate accounts. I also held board level responsibly for the creation of Babington’s innovative ‘NextGen’ blended delivery apprenticeship programmes which has received hugely positive feedback from customers and key stakeholders.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I think it’s so important to be the best version of yourself as much as you can at work and to lead by example. I believe in my actions being aligned to my words and being bold and courageous, whilst also being considered. I also think that great leaders focus on helping those around them to be the best they can be.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
I’m naturally a ‘get things done’ person and prioritising tasks when there is so much to get stuck into is a big challenge. It’s exciting, though, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. The pace of our sector really keeps me on my toes!
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Spending time with my family and finding that balance between work and home is what alleviates stress for me. Taking time on an evening to cook and spend time with my wife and my two boys helps me keep a good perspective and value what is most important in life.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An archaeologist – basically because I wanted to be Indiana Jones! Then an architect and a golf course designer; I think I’ve always liked creating things.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Apathy is the enemy of energy and is something I really can’t stand. I strive to ensure that people are connected to what we’re trying to achieve and inspired to take action. We really believe in the power that learning has to change people’s lives and we’re a key part of powering education and training. So apathy is essentially our enemy because it means that power is sucked out of something that is so important.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I believe that learning will change radically over the next five to 10 years, so I would like to think that NCFE has played a major part in developing new ideas and approaches that will create more opportunities for learning, particularly for those who need it most. I also see us being able to leverage more investment in learning through clearly demonstrating the significant positive impact that we’ve had on the lives of millions of learners in terms of their life and career chances.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
I would say to be yourself. Be the best version of yourself, but always be you. I occasionally see leaders ‘playing the role’ and it shows. Plus, it must be exhausting.
As a leader, you have such an important role in setting the tone, the mood and ultimately the culture within your organisation. So I think it’s hugely important to be optimistic, consistent, balanced and fair.
Finally, I believe that feedback can be the single most important thing that can improve your performance as a leader. So, ask for feedback and ask people to be honest. Take the feedback with openness and humility, even when it stings.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
I wish that someone had have told me that it doesn’t matter what you want to be, it’s who you want to be that’s important. We spend so much time asking children what they want to be when they grow up and that’s the wrong approach. Focusing on the kind of person they want to be should come first.