Tomlinson proposals could ease skills gap

Few in HR will have missed the publication of the Tomlinson report this
week. It promises the biggest shake up in secondary education for some 50
years. The issue is far too important for knee-jerk reactions, and companies
will need to see the entire package of the proposals, as well as the final
report due in the autumn, before giving any firmer endorsement to the proposed
changes.

Take a walk round some companies and you will find that for the vast
majority, the subjects of basic skills, recruitment and retention of the most
talented staff are right at the top of the agenda. Evidence abounds that the
lack of basic skills is damaging to UK productivity and is a major reason
behind the gap with our major competitors.

"Give us the tools and we will do the job," Winston Churchill once
remarked. But how many of the right tools will the proposed changes to
education outlined in the Tomlinson report give to employers?

The emphasis on placing vocational education on a par with the traditional
academic route is of great significance for manufacturing employers, especially
with the commitment to integrate modern apprenticeships and other vocational
qualifications into the proposed diploma framework. This should help to ensure
vocational qualifications are seen to be of equal value to academic ones, and encourage
many more people to consider courses such as engineering GCSEs and advanced
modern apprenticeships.

Industry will also strongly endorse the working group’s concerns about the
quality of informed and impartial guidance being given to 14 to 19-year-olds
during their education and training. A recent survey of first year apprentices
confirmed that most are being offered little or no information on post-16
options other than full-time education. Failure to provide more resources for
such guidance will result in the greater emphasis on vocational education and
qualifications being left dead in the water. The EEF will be urging the
Chancellor to devote greater resources to this in the forthcoming spending
review.

However, while the report hits many of the right notes, manufacturing
companies will reserve judgement on the ‘specialist diplomas’ until they see
exactly how they will be designed. The working group’s efforts to tackle the
arbitrary distinction between academic, vocational and occupational courses is
welcome, it is vital that the new qualifications maintain the standard set by
the current system of GCSEs and A-levels if they are to gain the confidence of
employers.

People know what they are buying with the current system of qualifications.
Whichever way the new ones are designed, it is vital that they do not lose the
clear credibility that currently exists and which young people and employers
clearly understand.

By Ian Peters, Director of external affairs, Engineering Employers Federation
(EEF)

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