While the government’s review of Further Education provision, most specifically the outcomes of the Wolf Report and the English Baccalaureate, has created new challenges for our sector, we must also be careful not to overlook the consequences of changes to Higher Education as well.
For almost 30 years, progressive governments have pushed for more and more young people to attend university, with the last Labour government aiming for 50 percent of all school leavers to go onto Higher Education. This has led to many professions, such as nursing, journalism and even fitness training, requiring a university qualification. With the introduction of higher tuition fees, many young people are going to think long and hard about whether the costs of a degree will be matched by enhanced career progression.
For organisations like NCFE, this sea change represents an opportunity to increase the number of young people following the vocational path to learning and a future career. In order to take advantage of this opportunity, we need to make sure that the qualifications we offer are well matched to the needs and aspirations of the young people in question, many of who will be disheartened that they cannot afford to go to university. We need to show them that they can learn just as well and progress to a successful career through a vocational course or apprenticeship.
At NCFE, we thought long and hard about this new challenge. We realised that the greatest need, particularly in this time of high youth unemployment, was to give assurance to learners that there would be genuine employment opportunities for them, either through apprenticeship posts or at the end of their qualification. We also recognised that employment and employability are areas where expert knowledge can help, which is why we engaged in discussions with Reed in Partnership, the leading recruitment and HR service provider.
The outcome of these discussions was the beginning of The Reed NCFE Partnership, a unique collaboration that provides an innovative solution to the challenges that young people now face. In effect, by combining our knowledge of vocational learning with Reed’s knowledge of employment and recruitment, we are providing colleges with a fully integrated service for the first time, while giving their students the confidence that they will be given all of the support and advice they need to find employment at the end of their course.
The need for the partnership was established through close consultation with many of the leading colleges in NCFE’s existing network. It became clear not only that their existing careers provision was being stretched by increasingly stringent budget constraints, but also that students were becoming far more inquisitive when it came to considering the employment prospects offered by their chosen courses. This particularly applied to those who may previously have considered other paths, such as a Degree.
The Reed NCFE Partnership will offer a service package to colleges which will equip students for today’s challenging labour market, helping them secure valuable employment and tracking their progress after college.
The model that the two organisations have developed provides learners with the Reed NCFE Level 1, 2 and 3 Awards in Job Search and Interview Skills. This can be further reinforced by a tailored programme of student and employer engagement, employment consultation, job brokerage, careers advice and work experience.
In line with the government’s focus on positive employment outcomes and the wider recommendations of the Wolf Report, we are fully committed to giving all of our learners the best possible chance of entering the labour market, while also providing cost-effective solutions to the educational institutions we work with. It is essential that learners have the right skills and mindset to appeal to potential employers as well as realistic expectations for their first job.
Ultimately, any training choice is about confidence. The Reed NCFE Partnership works because it provides a clear career path beyond training, reassuring young people that their college will do all it can to help them capitalise on their educational achievements. We are proud of the partnership not only because it is the first of its type, but also because it provides an innovative solution to the new economic and educational realities that we all need to work within.
While it is equally relevant to all young people, it also helps to provide the final level of assurance that may be needed by a young person who is undecided on whether to go into Higher Education. By signposting a clear career progression through the vocational route, we are able to give them the confidence they need, showing them that they can enjoy success without saddling themselves with debt. It’s all about high quality courses leading to proven employability and genuine opportunities.
David Grailey is the chief executive of NCFE, the qualification awarding body
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