We must celebrate VQs whilst looking at ways to make them better

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Today is Vocational Qualifications (VQ) Day - which as it says on the VQ Day website, is a national celebration of qualifications for students, teachers and employers, shining a light on and recognising the millions of talent and skilled people throughout the UK who are awarded VQs.

We agree this is a cause for celebration. We have spoken before about the fact that manufacturers do not prioritise academic qualifications other vocational qualifications when recruiting, but they are increasing looking for a combination of the two.

Whilst we must celebrate VQs, we must also look at ways at making them more relevant and more rigorous, not just for employers, but learners also. If we are to reform VQs now or in the fuure, we need to get them right.

Coming back to today - today is the 6th Annual VQ Day, having been launched in 2008 to raise the status of practical and vocational learning. I think it's fair to say that the status of vocational learning has risen. We have for example seen record numbers of Apprenticeships with the number of Manufacturing and Engineering Apprenticeship starts more than doubling in the past 10 years.

We have also seen the introduction of University Technical College (UTCs) and Studio Schools, which give young people the opportunity to attain a mix of academic and vocational qualifications. What's more UTCs and Studio Schools have real employer input as local and national businesses are involved in the design and development of the curriculum, as well as offering work experience opportunities to students.

But we are still some way to go with vocational qualifications – with only one in five manufacturers saying vocational qualifications are more relevant now than two years ago, and 45% of employers saying recruitment problems stem from candidates' lack of relevant qualifications.

The Richard Review of Apprenticeships recommended having one qualification per Apprenticeship standard. Whilst we are all for simplicity, such a move actually runs the risk of less flexibility for employers.

Manufacturers welcome the range of vocational qualifications on offer. Employers that require a breadth of skills and units within a framework may for example opt for a Technical Certificate, whereas others who are looking for a more focussed, in-depth qualification may consider City and Guilds.

With manufacturers continuing to develop new products, processes and services, and the need to adapt to customer demands, employers need flexibility to acquire such skills through a number of recognised qualifications.

The focus for vocational qualification reform must be on ensuring that only those VQs which are rigorous and relevant remain. Those qualifications that remain dormant and unused should be abolished. This work is already being undertaken through Nigel Whitehead's review of Adult Vocational Qualifications and we await to see the results, especially in engineering which has been a focus area of the review.

We also need to get employers more involved in the design and development of qualifications. Such appetite was clear from the development of the Engineering Diploma, and more recently, in response to its downgrade into a suite of four qualifications.

But what we must remember is that initiatives involving colleges and industry in the development of new vocational qualifications require a long-term commitment and a significant investment of time to succeed. Unfortunately it was a lack of this which undermined the Engineering Diploma, and lessons should be learnt from this.

Ending on a high-note, given we are celebrating vocational qualifications day, here are some top stats from a report conducted by the University of Sheffield and published by UKCES which found that VQs can lead to large pay increases:

Average earnings of those with a Level 3 Apprenticeship increase 22%

City & Guilds, BTECs and other VQs result in average pay increases between 5 and 23%

Those who obtain an NVQ through their employer earn some 10% more than those with no qualifications

Author

Head of Education & Skills Policy

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