Government must show support for employers if vocational qualifications are to gain traction and fulfill their potential in a value add economy
March 3 marked the culmination of a year’s work for Professor Alison Wolf, commissioned last year by government to produce a review of vocational education in the UK. The report was designed to examine the institutional arrangements around vocational education as well as the funding mechanisms, cost factors, employment prospects for the vocationally trained and the role of employers, awarding bodies and the third sector in delivering the education.
The release of the report this spring comes at a time when around two and a half million iof the total UK population are aged 14 to 19. While the vast majority of these young people are currently engaged in either full or part time in education, there is a huge opportunity to uncover or augment developing abilities by raising the profile of vocational options for qualification. Investing significant time in long periods of education is now considered a norm among young people and this strengthens the standing of routes such as apprenticeships.
What the Wolf review has uncovers is hugely encouraging for employers in sectors such as engineering and manufacturing. Wolf reports that, contrary to a popular perception that vocational qualifications are in the minority against academic style qualification, most English young people now take some vocational courses before they are 16; and post-16 the majority follow courses which are largely or entirely vocational.
Central to the recommendations the Wolf report makes with regards to the reform of education in the UK are the following:
•Any young person’s programme of study, whether ‘academic’ or ‘vocational’, should provide for labour market and educational progress
•Provide people with accurate and useful information, so that they can make decisions accordingly
•Dramatic simplification of the system to: allow access to good and accurate information, free up resources for teaching and learning, and encourage innovation and efficiency.
The recommendation and findings of the Wolf report have been welcomed by the manufacturing industry’s mayor awarding body, EAL. Commenting on the review EAL’s managing director, Ann Watson said: “I fully support the findings of Professor Wolf’s Review of Vocational Education – qualifications will only lead to long-term career opportunities if they incorporate an element of work-based experience and are more closely tailored to the needs of industry. Training should not be about getting bums on seats but preparing learners to make a valuable contribution once in the workplace.
“I especially welcome Professor Wolf’s view that employers taking on 16-18 year old apprentices should be eligible for payments; worthwhile investment in an apprentice is a big consideration for employers, particularly in these times when the cost of running a business seems to be risings with little material return or gain. For too long now employers have been paid lip service, with no financial incentive or reward for their input into training – this must change. I would, however, also like to see employers incentivised to take on the 19 plus age group, many of which are desperately seeking support to start their careers. With youth unemployment pushing the one million mark, the Government cannot afford to allow the UK’s economy to rest with the training of 16-18 year olds only.
“I am heartened by Professor Wolf’s recognition and support of the NVQ level 3 as a target standard of attainment. The vocational route doesn’t hinder alternative careers, especially when we consider sectors where transferable skills obtained in maths, science and management are core components. Look to any role within the manufacturing industry and you’ll find a range of skills being developed which only strengthen their employability. Understanding this is crucial if vocational education is to be seen as a credible option for young people, and vital in securing a skilled workforce.”