Boris Johnson, shadow minister for higher education, has launched an attack on vocational training, saying it is wrong to try to “lobotomise the British public” into thinking it is better than university degrees.
Boris Johnson told delegates at the Association for Graduate Recruiters’ national conference last week that everyone was “raving about plumbers”, which he said was a “real problem and a real misunderstanding”.
“It would be folly for government to think it could turn people away from the path of higher education if they want to do a degree,” he said.
“You can go back 130 years and find government after government saying we must get more people into [vocational] training,” Boris Johnson said.
“But somehow, British youth – in unbeatable, rational self-interest – refuses to accept that analysis. In ever-greater numbers, they are going into higher education.”
The recent Leitch report into skills levels in the UK concluded that the projected growth in job opportunities by 2020 will favour white collar and highly skilled occupations.
The report estimated almost 3.5 million more managers and senior officials would be needed by 2020 and almost three million more posts in professional occupations.
This contrasts with skilled trades occupations, which will see a fall in demand of about 400,000.
However, Mark Fisher, chief executive of the Sector Skills Development Agency, said Johnson had over-simplified the issue.
“We need to be far more positive about the vocational route. We don’t believe it’s either-or,” he said. “The future is a mix of higher education, work-based training and apprenticeships.”
“The key is every element of the system is responsive to employers’ needs,” Fisher said. “We would want to see an increasing proportion going into university but the vocational route is important as well.”
Johnson also railed against the CBI, saying the lobby group “loves regulations” because they “generate employment of all kinds”.
He said that calls by the employers’ body for a less risk-averse society with fewer employment laws were not in the interest of the CBI’s members. “It helps them get one over on their competitors and helps generate employment of all kinds. You will never find the CBI actually standing in the way of regulation.”
A CBI spokesman said that its record showed that it had consistently opposed red tape wherever it was an unnecessary burden on business.
Skills gap stifles UK’s ambitions