Talking Points: Valuing vocational routes

Recent White Papers on education and skills for 14 to 19-year-olds outline the government’s aims to improve and increase participation in vocational education and training in the UK. Engaging employers and streamlining qualifications will play their part in creating an education system that is truly demand led, but for any reform to take place, there needs to be a sense of value for vocational careers.

The government stopped short of implementing the Tomlinson recommendation to scrap A-levels, introducing a vocational diploma to run alongside the academic route instead. But what will it take to make vocational qualifications an attractive career option in the UK?

Nick Isles
Associate director,
The Work Foundation

Unless you have a single system that captures vocational and academic achievement and creates parity of esteem, vocational routes will almost always be seen as the second-class option – the one that other people’s children should take.

Until we can get a system that is unified – which was what Tomlinson was proposing – that lack of parity of esteem means vocational routes will remain the basket that collects the people who couldn’t make it at the sharp end, the academic route.

\Countries such as Germany, Austria and Denmark don’t distinguish between vocational and academic achievement in the way we do.

Brendan Barber
General secretary,

Strong part-time vocational routes through higher education, such as foundation degrees, would show that the vocational route has currency. Apprenticeships are important as well. In engineering, for example, 16-year-olds need to know that if they do an apprenticeship now, they can earn money as they learn, and perhaps go through a foundation degree in their twenties.

If we are to raise the level of skills, then employers must back training. The UK lags behind the rest of Europe, with 40% of employers not offering any training at all.

Alec McPhedran
Training and talent development manager,
Channel 4

Unfortunately, a lot of those in favour of vocational routes talk it down themselves. We don’t shout enough about the value of, say, NVQ level 4 in management. It’s a generation thing. The younger generations don’t have that concern. They’re quite comfortable talking about doing their NVQs, but as soon as they start moving towards university, they become influenced by adults, because that’s who they need to impress.

Keith Donnelly
Business development manager,

I think it’s changing. There will always be that middle class/working class, white collar/blue-collar split, but a well-skilled person in construction can now earn quite a good living. I don’t think [such prejudice] is as deeply enshrined as it was 20 years ago, and construction isn’t the Cinderella industry that it once was. Five years ago, it was very difficult to get people into the industry. Now we are turning people away.

Ollie Althorpe
Managing director,
St Microelectronics

The children coming through are capable of doing anything they wish. People can do extraordinary things if they are extraordinarily interested, but we have succeeded over many years in destroying the image of engineering in all its forms. If we can capture the imagination of the workforce coming through, they will drive the training need. We have to motivate them, but enable them to take that motivation and move on.

Karen Price
e-Skills UK

The recent 14-19 Education and Skills White Paper proposals provide a major opportunity for change. We support the proposals for a new integrated learning pathway for IT, combining academic, vocational and work-based learning. This will encourage a far wider range of young people to develop the skills required for our changing economy.

Andy Margrett
HR manager,
Aerosystems International

We are collaborating with our local college to develop a trainee programme for software developers that incorporates formal vocational training with our own work-based projects. It’s a cost-effective and efficient way for us to recruit good people at an early age, who can be shaped to deliver exactly what employers need, while developing their own skills and careers. The scheme offers participants a real opportunity to increase their experience and skills.

After talking to our recent trainees, I know that this is something many of them would never have considered doing before.

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