From education to employment

In a shifting jobs market, vocational training can offer some of the best paths to success

David Phillips, Managing Director – City & Guilds

This month, thousands of young people across the UK will have received their GCSE, A Level and T Level results and will be preparing to take the next step in their education or perhaps entering the workforce. These young people will be faced with a job market that is difficult to predict – the economic impact of Covid-19 is still being felt, along with a possible recession on the horizon, making it all the more important that they choices they make are well informed.

Research conducted by City & Guilds found that 40% of young people are planning to attend university after finishing their A Levels – with girls (47%) being more likely than boys (30%). While getting a degree is undoubtedly the right path for some young people, it is also clear that many will struggle to make effective use of their qualification, with economic modellers Lightcast having found that only 30% of jobs in the UK require a university degree. This means that as many as 1 in 4 graduates will find themselves unable to secure a job that requires their level of education, with many leaving university under the burden of student loans.

Vocational training and apprenticeships represent a valuable alternative pathway, offering entry into a wide range of careers, with learners gaining hands-on experience without accruing the student debt that typically accompanies a university education. Recent research from the London School of economics has also shown that the apparent gap in earnings between apprentices and graduates may have reversed, with apprentices earning up to £7000 more in their 20’s than graduates.  

Unfortunately, the UK struggles with a disconnect between employers, learning providers and learners themselves, with young people frequently not having access to the most up to date information on which to base their career choices. Earlier this year, the Baker clause became legally enforceable, with new guidance for schools expected to be issued in 2023, undoubtedly a step in the right direction towards ensuring young people have access to the information they need to make informed choices about their future.

Growth sectors and future proof careers

In our Great Jobs research, we explored the essential jobs and industries that the UK depends on. Many of these critical sectors are facing significant skills shortages and can offer well paid, sustainable careers which do not require a university education.

However, many of these sectors struggle with a negative perception among the public. Just 17% of people we surveyed who did not currently work in construction said that they would consider it as a career, a figure that falls to 9% among women. Energy and utilities are similarly unpopular, despite the fact that these fields can offer high levels of pay and reliable employment without the need for a university education.

Encouraging young people to consider different educational roots will mean educating them about the potential careers they can be used to access, and the benefits of those careers. Embedding careers advice and guidance early in the curriculum, from primary school onwards, will be essential to dispelling myths and helping young people to keep an open mind about a wide range of careers and sectors.

Educators also have an important role to play in making vocational training accessible for young people. The cost of living crisis means that, for young people, while increasing their long term earning potential is important, for many, they will be under financial pressure in the here and now. Making training flexible, and utilising technology to make remote training more widely available, will give young people the opportunity to develop their skills while still giving them the freedom to pursue a job.

Creating “bite size” courses must also be prioritised, allowing young people to develop their skills as and when they need to, without necessarily needing to take on a long term, full time training course. As the needs of learners shift rapidly in a changing economic climate, education and training provision needs to be adaptable as well.

Skills training will need to be customised to different parts of the UK as well, with a “one size fits all” approach unsuitable given the different industries and sectors offering opportunities across the country. Training providers will need to make use of local labour market data to identify the best opportunities available to young people in their area, and base careers advice and guidance accordingly. This will mean building relationships with local employers to understand their needs and serving to bridge the gap between learners and employers.

Training providers, employers and government all have an important role to play in ensuring that young people, and those they seek careers advice from, are equipped with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about their future. This will require a consistent and concerted effort, to shift a wider change in culture and encourage people to reconsider their existing ideas about what constitutes success. However, it is an effort well worth making, not only for the long term economic success of the country, but to give young people the best chance they can have.

By David Phillips, Managing Director at City & Guilds

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  1. Thanks for sharing this, university is not the only path to success, however, it can give you invaluable skills. If anyone reading this article is nervous about their first year, it’s understandable, but, all is good!