Vocational skills: more important than ever?

Last week’s prediction that tens of thousands of students will miss out on university places this autumn has thrown the spotlight firmly on vocational learning and apprenticeships.  Workingmums.co.uk explores the impact of this on the economy.

Last week’s prediction that tens of thousands of students will miss out on university places this autumn has thrown the spotlight firmly on vocational learning and apprenticeships.  Workingmums.co.uk explores the impact of this on the economy.

Vocational skills or university qualifications?
Although the prospect of a graduate tax being introduced by the Government is apparently not to be pushed forward at the moment, the row over vocational qualifications versus university qualifications has escalated following remarks from former trade minister Digby Jones.  The ex-director general of the CBI warned universities should provide more vocational courses to meet the skills needed in the workplace today and to bring the UK out of the economic downturn.
Applications to universities have increased by almost 12% compared to last year, and, on average, 70 graduates will be competing for one job when they finish their degrees.   Should they look to vocational qualifications instead?
Research by City & Guilds - the UK’s leading vocational education organisation – discovered 60% of employers believe that the biggest benefit of people with vocational qualifications over graduates is that they already have the skills and experience to work for their business from day one. 
The survey – The Skills Economy – the new framework for prosperity – questioned 1,200 employers across 26 industry sectors in England and discovered nine out of 10 employers view vocationally trained staff as ‘vital’ to the success of their business.
The poll also revealed 68% of employers say that vocational qualifications are likely to play a bigger part in their recruitment policy in the future.
Sue Hill, commercial director of City & Guilds, told Workingmums: ”it is important that everyone has a choice about how they want to shape their career and the traditional academic route to university, apprenticeships, colleges or work via GCSEs and A-levels does not suit everyone.  So being able to do vocational qualifications allows all learners, including working mums, to acquire the skills they need for the industry they want to work in.
According to our report – which highlights the importance of skills for business, the economy and global competitiveness – nine in 10 employers view vocationally trained staff as vital to the success of their business – a view that is shared by high levels of employers across the regions.”

Regional differentiations
However, the survey threw up some regional differences in outlook towards vocational qualifications.  Only 29% of employers in East Anglia felt vocationally qualified staff could ‘bring significant benefits to my company’ compared to 51% in Yorkshire and Humberside.
And only 66% of employers from the North East said work-related skills were ‘vital to ensure the UK can compete in the changing global economy’ compared to 80% from the South West.
Prof. Stephen Procter, Alcan chairman of management at Newcastle University Business School, said: ”Regional differentiations could be caused by the type of training and apprenticeships which are viewed as more common in certain industries such as engineering and traditional industrial areas,  whereas other areas which are more reliant on different kinds of industries, such as more customer-focussed industries, will put more emphasis on the so-called softer skills.”

Management prospects

But employers across all regions emphasised the long-term career prospects for staff who had gone down the vocational qualifications route. The survey revealed 56% of the business managers who took part in the poll said a high proportion of their apprentices go on to management positions within the company – this directly cuts down on staff turnover and promotes commitment and loyalty to the firm as well as cutting down on staff replacement costs.
David Fairhurst, chief people officer for McDonald’s – one of the world’s most successful franchises – said: ”At McDonald’s, we don’t believe that people leave the world of education behind them when they enter the world of work and we have a long-term commitment to offering all of our employees access to vocational opportunities.  I am pleased to see that this new research by City & Guilds provides concrete endorsement to the importance of this form of work-based training.  We offer nationally recognised qualifications like apprenticeships at McDonald’s, which give our employees both the practical and relevant skills they need to improve their confidence and competence in the workplace.  Delivering our training in this way is good for our business, good for our people, and as research like this shows, it is good for the wider economy too.”

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