From education to employment

Director General of City and Guilds Addresses “the Other 60%”

Chris Humphries is certain of one thing. The current system of careers guidance for young people under the age of 16 is not working, and it needs to be changed. And with a shortage of skilled workers in Britain the onus is on the likes of City & Guilds, of which Humphries is director general, to get Britain’s young people wised up to the training options available to them.

Key to meeting the demand for skilled workers is targeting what Humphries refers to as “the other 60 per cent”, those young people who do not go on to higher education after leaving school. Britain needs to increase its levels of education participation amongst school leavers to match those of competing countries where there has been a big emphasis on continuing education over the last 20 years, he says.

Too Much Spotlight on Universities

One of the big problems of getting young people to carry on with their education, says Humphries, is that there is too much emphasis on the university route with other courses either neglected or simply not publicised properly.

“There is an impression amongst parents that unless their children go to university they are a failure. There is too much pressure to go to university and there is not enough equal emphasis on other routes into higher education, leaving behind the other 60 per cent of young people,” he says.

“Economically, we can”t afford to believe that only forty per cent of our young people can participate in higher education. The big economic boom and bust of the late eighties and nineties created an impression that manufacturing and construction are dead. This is a big issue and the impression amongst the young is that there is no future in industries such as manufacturing and construction, and so many choose an academic route through higher education,” Humphries concluded.

Better Advice for Better Results

The problem is compounded by the lack of access to advice for young people on the careers and training options available to them, and by a tendency for some schools to put their own funding needs first and encourage young people to stay in school in the sixth form “even if that is not the best advice for them”.

With schools failing to supply adequate information, and teachers not properly supported, and public information simply not good enough, Humphries believes there is an urgent need to improve the quality of and access to careers advice, and to spread resources more equally across all young people.

“The labour market is changing rapidly. It is harder for any careers advisor to keep up with the changing market. Young people have to access up to date information that is expressed in terms that they understand. And at the moment they aren”t getting it. So, we are saying to our young people the future is uncertain but we are not doing anything about it.

“We need an integrated and coherent service and we need to make the advice available from year seven or eight onwards, so from 11 or 12 years old. But how are we going to provide this advice early? We are not resourced to do this. Resources are being focused on the bottom 15 per cent of our youth, not on everyone, and this has to change,” said Humphries.

City and Guilds Tackle the Issue

With City & Guilds research showing widespread unawareness amongst “the other 60 per cent” of the courses available for careers development the organisation, the main provider of vocational qualifications in Britain with over 500 qualifications, is trying to boost public interest in vocational training through television and website advertising, and by helping to organise and sponsor events like the Apprenticeship Awards, and the recent Skills City festival, where 120,000 young people, teachers and parents were able to explore a huge range of career options under one roof.

The organisation also creates an annual “series of stories” that help to underline the benefits of vocational study, such as the happiness index which links happiness to vocational career choices, a rich list of people working in vocational careers, and youth surveys. And it has boosted partnership with other public bodies “to create a stronger public policy environment that helps to push [vocational training] through”.

“We are not trying to say that the academic route is bad, but that the vocational route is also good. We are trying to contribute our bit to create a good public perception of vocational study,” says Humphries.

With shortages in vocational and technical skills now widespread and predicted to increase over the coming decade, the efforts of organisations like City & Guilds, and the government, to help young people make informed choices about their future will be essential in ensuring not only that the British economy remains competitive and healthy, but that young people are able to lead a full and rewarding life.

Everyone here at FE News would like to thank Mr. Humphries for sharing his thoughts with us, and wish him well in his future efforts.

Brandon Cheevers

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