Hundreds of thousands of young people nervously await news of their A Level, T Level and level 3 VTQ grades today. It’s an exciting time for those who receive the results they were looking for. However, it’s a stressful time for those may not have quite achieved the grades they were hoping to with a scramble to decide what to do next. Either way, the next few weeks are the start of a new chapter in so many young people’s lives – but are those young people making the most informed choice they can?
Every year, we see plenty of media coverage of those who intend to use their exam results as a springboard to start university, but very little is said about those who choose vocational or technical routes instead. University is, of course, a suitable option for many, but there are other options open to them. Whether it’s an apprenticeship, a traineeship or something else, high-quality skills training can lead to immensely better career prospects. It also has a wider benefit to society, through higher productivity and stronger economic growth – yet we still don’t seem to value technical education nearly enough.
Young people don’t know or understand the career options open to them beyond university
This leads to far too many of our young people not knowing or understanding the career options open to them beyond university. AELP have spoken to a lot of apprentices, across different levels and sectors. Almost none of them told us they found out about apprenticeships in school- with many reporting they found out through word of mouth or their own research, and often once they had already tried a college or university course that wasn’t for them. Let me be clear- no one should receive their only piece of vocational careers advice through Google.
There is of course, already some great work being done by schools and providers across the country to break down these barriers to understanding vocational pathways. Our partnership with the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) hopes to lead by example, through building networks (including Careers Hubs) and promoting the benefits of work-based routes. We know the technical education landscape is tricky for careers professionals and young people alike to navigate. That’s why our work with CEC has also included producing resources for careers advisers and the people they support.
Delivering better careers advice
Young people must be guaranteed regular, high-quality careers information, advice and guidance (CIAG). The statutory requirement for schools to provide opportunities for providers of technical education and apprenticeships to talk to year 8-13 pupils to discuss their education and training options is central to this. Thankfully, the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022, means government are strengthening the rules around CIAG – and the Department for Education (DfE) recently asked for ideas and best practice on how to implement this new legislation.
Our submission to the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into careers education outlines how we believe CIAG can be improved. Fundamentally, we believe each pupil should receive at least two careers meetings per year, involving a range of further education providers. The forthcoming provider access legislation means the next generation of young people should benefit from that kind of careers support. This is something we’re really pleased to see in the pipeline, after considerable lobbying from AELP.
We also know that to deliver this, the government must invest in better workforce development for teachers – starting by ensuring the teacher training syllabus includes knowledge of apprenticeships and technical education.
More sessions alone won’t deliver the type of CIAG we need. There needs to be a shift to ensure those sessions don’t simply focus on traditional academic routes. Schools must be incentivised to do more to promote vocational and technical education. Most young people will know what grades they need to get into a particular university – but how many receiving their results today will know the types of jobs employers have available right now – training included – near to where they live? Not many, I’d wager – and if they did, imagine how many would choose a different route over the coming weeks.
We have heard very little from the two candidates vying to become the next leader of the Conservative Party – and therefore our next Prime Minister – on the power of vocational education. The current administration has – to its credit – made skills a priority, through the Plan for Jobs, Skills and Post-16 Education Act and more. But we need to see the next government equal, if not better this focus and investment in skills. That starts with ensuring everyone can access the high-quality, impartial careers information, advice and guidance that they deserve.