Jan Hodges OBE is chief executive of Edge

With January behind us it seems a little late to wish you a Happy New Year but with an election under 100 days away we are hopeful it will be just that – particularly for FE and skills.

We hope that whatever the result, the Edge Foundation continues to enjoy the cross-party support it has so far received. Our Manifesto sets out the policies which we believe will tackle youth unemployment, rebalance our education and training system and create profound partnerships between education and employment. Our goal is simple but bold: no NEETs.

We are not naïve, we know there is no simple solution, no overnight remedy, but for real change to happen the target must be set high and, although it is a tough target we believe it is realistic.

To minimise the number of young people not in education, employment or training we need to make sure that they are not disengaged during their education. Learners need to be aware of all the options so that they can pick a path that suits their skills and ambitions. We need to ensure that the passion for learning they display in their younger years is nurtured and encouraged so that when it comes to making decisions about their futures they are empowered to make a choice that will not only excite them but will also help them get a job and make sure they are financially independent.

Financial independence is important. Much research has been dedicated to driving home the message that a degree will guarantee you a top earning career. But there are no guarantees and we know that many graduates take up positions for which their degree was not required.

To mark the launch of VQ Day 2015, we carried out research into the perception versus the reality when it comes to earnings. What we discovered is worrying.
While earning potential is the biggest deciding factor when it comes to young people making career choices, the research found that both teenagers and their parents are worryingly inaccurate at estimating how much people can earn. Many of the highest earning sectors are reachable via a vocational route but are being ignored due to an incorrect perception that they do not pay as well as other sectors.

The research highlights the need for greater awareness around technical, practical and vocational learning. Raising the status of these routes and giving greater recognition to those who follow them is what VQ Day is all about. If we want these pathways to be valued equally with academic ones then we need to make people aware of the benefits of vocational learning, not just the intrinsic value it can bring to the individual but also the financial rewards, and of course the wider benefits to the economy of having more young people in education, employment and training, better matched to the skills the UK economy needs.

This VQ Day, help us raise the status of technical, practical and vocational learning by celebrating the learners, teachers and employers who take, teach and support vocational qualifications. Nominations for the VQ Awards are now open and we encourage you to join this UK-wide celebration.

Jan Hodges OBE is chief executive of Edge, the independent education charity dedicated to raising the status of technical, practical and vocational learning

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