Last week marked the 7th annual VQ day - a celebration of vocational achievement highlighting the benefits of practical and technical learning to both the individual and society.
Over 400 schools, colleges and work-based providers got involved in the nation-wide celebrations and at NCFE, we didn't let the day go by unnoticed. As well as highlighting some fantastic learner success stories, we also conducted some timely research to find out what the barriers are that stop people advancing their education.
The results of the survey (carried out with 2000 adults across the UK) outlined that the high cost of furthering your education is the factor that prevents almost half of UK adults gaining advance qualifications. This comes as figures show that the average graduate debt is now £53,000 after tuition fees rose in September 2012.
Our survey also found that being too old (36%) and family commitments (24%) were other key factors which made people think twice when deciding on additional qualifications.
Despite there being a demand for degrees over the past 20 years, with 140% increase in the number of people studying medicine, and 162% increase in degrees in mass communications and media studies between 2000 and 2012; there is currently a lack of graduates in technical disciplines and this has led to a significant skills gap.
With an average of 250 people applying for each corporate job, and with 20% of graduates unemployed in their first 6 months after completing their university course, there is an increasing demand for vocational courses and apprenticeships.
In the past couple of years, the Government has invested heavily in apprenticeships, and with the demand for vocational courses predicted to peak in 2050, there is an ever increasing need for more practical and vocationally led courses.
At NCFE, we're pleased to see that vocational qualifications are gaining the recognition that they deserve. We believe that they offer a real opportunity to enhance learners' lives and get people into employment.
Interestingly, vocational qualifications could also provide the answer in terms of the barriers that people experience with lifelong learning. Many qualifications are fundable and with apprenticeships, you have the opportunity to earn whilst you learn. What's more, vocational qualifications can be delivered flexibly ie online or through blended learning, to allow people to fit their learning around their other commitments.
David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national awarding organisation