The UK risks failing to close its "chronic skills gaps" by continuing to push young people towards the university "default route", according to business leaders. A recent report from the CBI suggests that a growing demand for high level technical skills cannot be met by traditional university courses alone, and it's important for teens to consider apprenticeships as a viable alternative.
The report states that we must "widen gateways into skilled work and promote routes to higher skills that appeal to individuals for whom a degree may not be the best option." Vince Cable, Business Secretary, agrees "a credible alternative to university is needed to help young people get the skills that the economy needs."
With over 250 types of apprenticeships now available in a huge range of sectors, there's no doubt that this kind of vocational training has undergone a considerable make-over in recent years. However, more work still needs to be done to ensure this 'earn as you learn' approach has parity of prestige with academic routes.
The Guardian recently reported that nearly two-thirds (63%) of parents don't understand apprenticeships well enough to explain them to their children. It's a worrying statistic and indicative of a wider problem; young people need better access to broader careers advice from a young age. They need to receive realistic and practical guidance, including costs and likely outcomes, so they can ensure that they choose the right route for them. Improving the visibility of vocational training is a key part of this.
The Government's new flagship Traineeships programme is set to launch this month which will help to raise the profile of vocational training, providing young people with a stepping stone to apprenticeships and responding to the needs of employers. The initiative will give young people the opportunity to develop the skills and workplace experience that employers want and put them in a better position to compete for an apprenticeship or job. A number of high profile companies including HSBC, BT, General Motors and Virgin Media have already committed to running the scheme.
At NCFE, as well as offering over 40 full apprenticeship frameworks in a range of diverse sector areas, we support traineeships as a progression to apprenticeships. A central aspect of traineeships will be the work placement, which will last between six weeks and five months. The traineeship framework requires work experience to be 'high quality' and 'meaningful', so how can you help your learners to have a truly worthwhile placement?
One way that you can support your learners' work experience is by underpinning the placements with qualifications which will accredit the core, transferable skills that they learn within the workplace. Vocational qualifications such as Developing Skills in the Workplace, Employability Skills or Occupational Studies can help to give structure to work experience so learners leave their placements with the feeling that they have something concrete to mark their achievements.
Ultimately, work based training allows young people to earn money, learn job specific skills, improve employability outcomes, receive training and gain qualifications. They offer employers the opportunity to harness fresh new talent, fill skills shortages, improve competitiveness and increase productivity. With such a range of benefits to the individual, to businesses and to the economy, it's vital that we continue to raise the profile of the vocational route and champion it amongst young people considering their future choices.
There's a lot of positive feeling in the sector about the potential of traineeships to help young people move onto the next stage in their lives so why not be a part of it?
David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the training provider