Industry welcomes chancellor’s emphasis on vocational education

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Government announces plans for new qualifications and work placements to fill post-Brexit skills gaps, but details remain scant

CIPD People Management

Plans to overhaul post-16 education to put technical skills on a par with academic qualifications – with the aim of closing post-Brexit skills gaps – have been broadly welcomed by businesses and the training industry.

Information released over the weekend suggested that chancellor Philip Hammond will use this Wednesday’s Budget to announce an emphasis on vocational education that could have profound implications for organisations’ future recruitment and talent planning.

Vocational courses will last up to 50 per cent longer, the equivalent of an extra 900 hours of teaching a year. And the current post-16 education system, which features around 13,000 qualifications, will be replaced with just 15 standalone vocational courses, dubbed ‘T-levels’.

The Confederation of British Industry led a cautious welcome for the nascent plans, with its director-general, Carolyn Fairbairn, saying: “There has never been a more important time to address the UK’s skills shortages. Investment in skills by employers and the government are the key to giving young people the opportunities they need to succeed.”

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, which will be working with the government to design the new system, said the announcement would make a “significant and positive difference”.

He said: “This is a vote of confidence in colleges that are ready to work with employers to co-design the new routes, deliver the 900 hours per year and help more young people make a smooth and successful transition to work and to higher-level learning. This signals a step change in thinking, backed by investment in technical education for young people that will put us on a par with international competitors.”

The changes will be rolled out from 2019-20 and will be backed by £500m of new funding every year once established, the Treasury has said.

The additional learning time – on courses covering everything from engineering to business and administration and social care – is set to include a “high-quality industry work placement” for each student.

The reforms will also mean students on higher technical education courses at levels 4-6 in national colleges and institutes of technology will have access to maintenance loans similar to those offered to university students.

The Treasury has promised a fund of up to £40m for “piloting new approaches to encourage lifelong learning”.

According to sources quoted in the national press, investment in education and training will be one of the central themes of the Budget, as well as additional measures to help small firms that have been affected by business rate rises.

A Treasury source told The Telegraph: “Now that we’re leaving Europe, we really need to up our game on this stuff. We cannot wait. We will soon be competing with every other country after Brexit. This is the most ambitious post-16 education reform since the introduction of A-levels 70 years ago.”

Fairbairn added that because the “majority” of people who will be working in 2030 are already in the workforce, a focus on adult skills provision would help recalibrate the economy. “This will be very important in the face of fast-changing economics and technology,” she said.

But as National Apprenticeship Week begins, the scale of the structural task facing those who seek to overhaul vocational training was made clear by a City & Guilds survey of more than 3,000 14 to 19-year-olds, which found that only 19 per cent thought apprenticeships were a good route into work. Seventy per cent reported that they planned to go to university.

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