Rethink needed on approach to vocational skills training

The government should radically reassess its attempt to address skills shortages through vocational education and training, according to its own research.

The Market Failure in Skills report by the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) said there was an “obsession with blanket targets that treat the entire national workforce as a single entity”.

It concluded that further education colleges are unable to meet employer demand for short courses for adult employees because “all their teaching and other resources are devoted to… meeting national targets for the achievement of whole qualifications”.

The report’s author, professor Ewart Keep from Warwick Business School, said that Sector Skills Councils were helping to ensure that courses and skills were tailored to specific parts of the economy, but policy had not caught up.

“Sector skills growth needs to be given emphasis, as vocational does not automatically mean employable,” said Keep.

“Some skills are in demand and some are not. The broad-based approach to skills needs to be replaced with a wider range of sector-based training.”

The government has begun consulting on its White Paper on further education, which is designed to turn colleges into “the engines of social and economic growth, providing young people and adults with the right skills to meet the demands of our economy”.

The paper includes provisions to drive up the quality of teaching, reward colleges for success and make the sector more responsive to the skills needs of individuals and employers.

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