From education to employment

Higher Technical Education – the Answer to the Missing Middle? #STEM

Graham Hasting-Evans, Group Managing Director, NOCN

The nature of work and the type of jobs in the economy have been changing for the last 40 years. And this rate of change is set to increase.

The intense pressure created by rapid and unprecedented technology advances are resulting in significant changes in the skills needed to drive a successful and sociality inclusive economy.

One of the other big challenges facing the UK future prosperity is the apparent inability to solve the ‘productivity puzzle’ and hence compete in the global market.

Alongside of this we have a demographic change which means that people will have working lives lasting 50 years with several career changes over that time.

The missing middle skills gap

According to many forecasters, we face the challenges of major skills gaps in filling the growing number of the professional, scientific and technical jobs, (predominantly at educational Levels 4 and 5) over the next 5 to 10 years.

Forecasts vary, but we could be looking at a growth in demand for this level of skill of up to 5 million in the medium term. This gap is now starting to be called the ‘missing middle’.

In this context we must welcome the fact the Government has been reviewing what it might do.

On 8 July 2019, the Government issued a new consultation on ‘Higher Technical Education‘ covering vocational qualifications at Level 4 and Level 5.

These set out proposals to establish a new portfolio of Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) to be approved and delivered through the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (the Institute).

These qualifications would be designed to allow learners to achieve the knowledge, skills and behaviours set out by the Institute’s employer-led occupational standards. Approval would be overseen by the Institute’s Route Panels.

The qualifications would be adequately funded, ‘branded’ and supported by wider information, advice and guidance.

A step in the right direction

At first reading this appears to be a step in the right direction. It is crucial that these qualifications are industry based, supported by employers and deliver what the economy needs.

They also need to be able to support two distinct types of learners:

  1. Those young adults that will progress on from A or T Levels and see these as a route to a Degree or Degree Apprenticeship.
  2. The second type of learners, which will probably be the biggest number, will be adults, already in the workforce that are upskilling to match demand and career opportunities.

It is essential that the design of the qualifications and the delivery model is modular, flexible and supports the second and bigger cohort of learners.

Approved training providers would deliver training for these new HTQs, with regional/local leadership.

In order to ensure quality the OfS would develop a set of registration conditions, which must be complied with by training providers.

It is intended to improve accessibility through greater flexibility and ensuring learners have ongoing support, including financial support.

National Colleges, Institutes of Technology, FE Colleges and employers are expected to spearhead delivery.

I also think that other types of providers will be able to contribution quality training.

To achieve the Government’s ambition we need to see that there is both adequate as well as flexible funding models in place to support these HTQs.

Areas to mull over

Quality control – Looking at other aspects on the consultation document, I am confused by the proposals on the control of quality as well as regulation, as this appears to be split between the Institute, Ofqual and OfS. One wonders how effective and efficient this proposal is.

Branding – There is also a question in my mind about overall branding of our technical and vocational system. Might it not be easier to have one ‘brand’ instead of several different names?

There is much to mull over during the summer holiday period.

Note the consultation closes on 29 September. Enjoy the read.

Graham Hasting-Evans, Group Managing Director, NOCN

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