With A Level results now out, young people up and down the country will be weighing up their future education and career options, as they decide what to do next.
Their decision process is likely to be markedly different from those who received their A Level results just a few years ago.
As university tuition fees soar and graduate unemployment sits at near record levels, the value of university, both in terms of money and guaranteeing employment, will be considered with far greater scrutiny than ever before.
In fact, recent research from The Independent Commission on Fees identified the astronomical rise of tuition fees as the key reason behind a significant drop in applications to English universities this year.
This insight came as little surprise to me. In October this year, City & Guilds Centre for Skills Development (CSD) is to release a report which examines the beliefs young people (aged 14 – 20 years) hold about their future career prospects. One key finding from the report is that an overwhelming majority (91%) believe it’s likely that university will be too expensive for many families in the future; revealing a generation acutely aware of the heavy financial burden further education can carry.
University remains the right option for many young people, and indeed is the best route for certain career paths. However it isn’t the only route available to take. Both the results from CSD and The Independent Commission on Fees support my belief that as young people consider their options, there is a greater focus on alternatives to university. It also helps explain new figures released by City & Guilds, which show that the number of young people starting higher level vocational qualifications has more than doubled in the past year. The correlation between this and annual tuition fees hitting £9,000 tells us clearly that young people are starting to rethink the best routes into employment, including high quality vocational learning.
Vocational qualifications provide people with the training they need to help develop their talents and abilities for future career progression, whilst meeting the needs of today’s workplace. Time and time again employers tell us that the most valuable asset they’re looking for in new starters is experience, which is something that can only be gained through learning on the job. This is where vocational training adds unrivalled value to learners and businesses alike. Building a workforce of young people with relevant skills for employment will also be crucial if we are to properly tackle youth unemployment.
The increase in people taking qualifications at level 4 and above shows that awareness of high-quality vocational learning is up. It’s hugely encouraging that more young people are realising the value of practical work-related training and considering a wider variety of paths to career success. This can only be a positive thing for young people, businesses and the wider economy. It is my hope that we will see this awareness continue to be reflected in the decisions taken by this year’s school leavers, as they decide the best path to their future success.
Chris Jones is chief executive and director general of City and Guilds, the awarding body