We know there are barriers to young people taking up technical and vocational pathways. Having spent the last few years working with governments around the world to improve skills and employment systems, I know if we’re to break these barriers down, we need to do two things, acknowledge the complexity of the issue and agree a shared understanding of what’s happening at a local and national level.
The mission of the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) is to help every young person to find their best next step. We do this through a national framework tailored locally to reach and meet the needs of schools, colleges, businesses and technical education providers. Our ability to convene these actors puts us in a position to start breaking down the complexity, build consensus and a shared understanding to unpick and overcome the ATE transitions riddle.
Over the coming months we will be bringing together experts from business, education, local government, careers, and young people themselves through a select number of our Careers Hubs, locally led but supported and connected nationally.
We are getting things right on apprenticeships and technical education
I believe when it comes to apprenticeships and technical education in this country, we are getting many things right. But sometimes what is right and what is working are hard to disentangle.
Many things need to align before someone takes up a technical or vocational pathway. You need local labour market demand, employers offering the right opportunities, enough training provision close to learners, good careers education, accessible information about the options available, applicants to have the right skills and for parents, carers and peers to support leaners taking these pathways.
We have all these things in England, but not everywhere and not evenly distributed.
A common understanding
Ask different people about what’s right or wrong with the system and you’ll get different answers. For some it’s that young people don’t know about apprenticeships, though DfE research showed by the end of the last academic year, Year 9s and 10s had almost as strong awareness of apprenticeships as A-Levels. For others it’s that employers aren’t willing enough to offer apprenticeships – especially for young people – but starts are up 9% this year and 20% for 16-18.
When there is so much to analyse and understand it’s too easy to generalise and prescribe solutions that fail to address the root causes of the problem.
But, we can start to reach a common understanding of what is right and what is wrong with the system by bringing together actors at the local level, having conversations and building consensus about what works and what needs to change.
A single conversation in action
Through each conversation, using data and front-line insight, all parties can agree an objective understanding of what is preventing the take-up of technical and vocational pathways at the local level. Is it a lack of apprenticeships, a lack of access to training opportunities, or a lack of interest or aspiration from young people to take these pathways?
By understanding the picture at a local level, it’s possible to target action where the evidence shows, and local actors agree it’s needed most.
An expert group in one area might identify and agree they have a high number of apprenticeship and T-Level vacancies and learners who have the skills needed to access them, but those learners have a low understanding of these options and different pathways open to them.
This community can then together, agree to make this a priority and decide to focus on supporting the new provider access requirements. They can learn from other areas that identify this as a strength and track the effect their chosen collective action has. And if successful they can share that insight with other areas facing the same challenge.
Local conversations leading to a national picture
Through these different local conversations, we can aggregate information into a comprehensive national picture. By understanding the consistent issues across geographic, economic and demographic factors we can establish the challenges that require national solutions.
This, combined with the rich sources of data and insight which already exist, like Employer Skills Survey, Local Skills Dashboard, Working Futures, DfE data, Compass and the Future Skills Questionnaire, takes us closer to that shared understanding.
Convening and marshalling expertise
As well as having that shared understanding at the local and national level, we can use the connective power of Careers Hubs to bring together the collective knowledge and best practice of different careers systems to create sustained change. If one area is struggling with the quality of encounters between providers and young people, but we know good policy and good practice exists elsewhere, we can bring people and data together to connect what works with where it needs to work.
A shared understanding leading to meaningful change
Robust, broad analysis and strong collaboration to make sure that we are addressing the right issues, knitting together the right partners and initiatives, can move the needle and make a sustained change.
There is real enthusiasm, dedication and expertise that exists in this country in supporting young people into vocational routes. By working from a common starting point and shared understanding we can channel it into real, meaningful change. And together recognise and scale success in supporting young people to take their best next step and employers to source the skills they need.
Andy Hall is the Technical Education and Skills Senior Manager at the Careers and Enterprise Company. Andy is responsible for co-ordinating CEC’s Technical Education and Skills strategy. Andy previously worked for the British Council, leading research, policy dialogue and technical assistance to support governments around the world to improve their TVET systems, and for WorldSkills UK, leading on the co-ordination of the programme of national competitions.
We know brilliant insight exists in the sector already and are seeking to curate what exists rather than add to it – please get in touch if you are interested in helping shape our framework and have relevant data or insight that would help as we develop our pilot.