Rick Firth has recently joined Edexcel as the director of the BTEC
schemes. Here he outlines his ambitions
for vocational education and training
Having worked in vocational education and training for more than 15 years, I
am excited by the chance my new role in Edexcel offers to contribute to the
changing vocational education landscape, and hopefully, to promote and
influence the perception of its value.
Edexcel’s BTEC brand has a track record going back many years of delivering
well-qualified ‘fit for purpose’ people into industry. Having worked in
industry, I have seen for myself that many companies are enlightened enough to
understand that every workforce needs a balance of both academic and vocational
skills. The choice between taking candidates who are ‘job ready’, and those who
have demonstrated academic excellence and potential, is often weighted in
favour of the vocationally educated.
Companies in the UK recognise that graduates joining them will need specific
job skills and industry knowledge before they begin to contribute fully to the
organisation, which takes time and additional investment.
It is accepted that investment in many graduate training programmes involve
1-2 years of company and industry orientation, and an additional development
cost which can reach £30- £40k-plus.
Set against this, the job-ready, industry-aware vocational graduate offers
distinct speed and cost advantages for companies.
Yet too often it seems, as far as gov ernment, the supply side and the
public at large are concerned, there is no consistent view of the value of
vocational education in the workplace.
Much of this is embedded in our educational structures and will
take time to change. Encouragingly for the less-academically minded – and 50
per cent of students do not get above a C at GCSE – the Government’s
announcement about its future strategy for 14-to-19 year-olds will address
their needs, offer real vocational choices and a head start in career development.
More work is needed, though, to reduce the tokenism and really promote the
value of a vocational path against a traditional education route.
There is a recognised shortage of skilled technicians and
managers in the UK and organisations such as the Institute of Employment
Studies are researching exactly where these shortages lie. We must all begin to
truly value the work that qualified technicians and managers do and give future
generations the chance to enhance the profile of their vocational route through
education as a first choice of career.
The Government also has to resist fixing what is not broken and
avoid dispensing with parts of the vocational scene that are working well. The
BTEC Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNC/HND) have established a
worldwide reputation as standards of excellence for employer- recognised higher
level qualifications, yet the introduction of Foundation
Degrees led to some uncertainty over their place
in the ongoing framework.
The Government has recognised the huge value and currency HND/Cs have.
Edexcel’s 80,000 annual registrations for the HNDs will go some way to helping
the Government meet its target to get 50 per cent of young people into higher
education. Introducing the HND into the foundation degree framework now will
boost employers’ recognition of vocational qualifications. It is important we
also preserve the goodwill of employers and value invested in the HNC/D brand
within different sectors. I believe raising the value perception of vocational
education is firmly on the agenda and I detect a will from key stakeholders to
assist in this process.
I believe we can build the profile of the BTEC brand yet further. We intend
to offer complete progression routes for students making a vocational choice as
an alternative to an academic path. We will work even closer with industry and
employers to ensure we are developing programmes that are demand-led, and will
therefore deliver students who can demonstrate effective job ready and market-needed
Our aim is to offer qualifications and products that continue to be
respected and demanded by industry, sought after by students and parents, and
recognised for meeting national and international needs by the education
sector, government and regulators.