From education to employment

We need the right kind of parental guidance

Vocational education is second to academia. It’s for people who couldn’t succeed at school. It’s inferior to a university education. These are sentiments that we sadly have heard too many times over the years.

But when we surveyed over 3500 parents to understand their views on education and careers, it was a different picture. We found that parents think a plumbing or IT qualification will make young people more employable than a History or English degree.

Only 8% thought studying for a history degree at university would make a graduate ‘very employable’. Now compare that to 57% for a plumbing qualification or apprenticeship. That’s a huge difference. In fact, plumbing ranked higher than both a law degree (53%) and a science degree (52%).

Fantastic news, right? Perceptions are changing, and parents clearly recognise the value of an education that effectively prepares young people for employment.

Not for my children

But let’s not celebrate just yet. Despite clearly recognising the value of vocational qualifications and apprenticeships, it seems that many parents still don’t think it’s the right route for their own children.

As our research showed, only 8% of parents said they wanted their children to gain a level 2 vocational qualification, and just 13% for level 3 – even though over a third (36% and 37%) said they knew a lot about those qualifications. We obviously still have a lot of work to do.

Far too many parents still think a degree is the key to success, and it’s not surprising; it’s the route they’re most familiar with – even though they recognise how valuable practical skills are for future success.

This is a worrying disconnect, and one we must resolve. We must help them understand the benefits of vocational education – because only then will they be able to give their children balanced careers advice.

Changing perceptions

Time and time again, we hear that young people are most influenced by their parents. It’s not surprising, given how much contact they have with them. But when it comes to careers, are parents really in the best position to offer advice? As earlier research from the City & Guilds Group showed, over half (51%) of parents have reservations about their ability to give effective careers advice.

So what can we do to help?

One way is through The Skills Show. As the UK’s largest skills and careers event, it’s a fantastic way for parents and children to talk to colleges, training providers and employers all under one roof. If you went last year, you probably saw the same reactions from parents. There were countless comments like, ‘I had no idea that apprenticeships have moved on so much since the 80’s!’ or ‘I didn’t realise you could take qualifications in social media.’

That’s the beauty of first-hand experience; it changes perceptions and has a long-lasting impact.

Working together to make a difference

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with studying history or English – or any degree for that matter. You can gain valuable skills in almost any area of study. And of course, some careers require people to take a degree in a certain subject – and that’s fine.

But too many young people are being pushed down the academic route without knowing what else they could be doing. After all, there’s no ‘best’ path after school – be it an apprenticeship, degree, or employment. Everyone is different, with different aspirations.

What really matters is that they choose the route that’s best suited to them. There are many paths to success. Parents have a major role in helping their children decide, but they can’t be expected to learn it all by themselves.

We all have a responsibility – educators, parents, industry experts, and Government – to break down those misconceptions and share the truth.

Working together, we can – and should – make a difference.

By Kirstie Donnelly, UK managing director of City & Guilds and Jan Hodges, chief executive of the Edge Foundation


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