From education to employment

Perceptions of vocational and technical qualifications – wave 5

To capture the extraordinary nature of the events and arrangements put in place in 2021 as a response to the pandemic, a separate set of questions specific to 2021 was included in Wave 5, which mirrored some of the general questions. Therefore, the survey questions were split into two sections this year: a general section to capture longitudinal trends, and a 2021-specific section. The main findings are also separated accordingly as follows.

General perceptions

Learner perceptions

In general, learners were knowledgeable about vocational and technical qualifications (VTQs), Functional Skills qualifications (FSQs), and apprenticeship end-point assessments (EPAs), often having similar perceptions to providers. Approximately two-thirds (69%) of learners agreed that they understand the purpose of VTQs, which has decreased slightly from 74% in wave 4 (although this level was comparable to wave 3).

Around three-fifths (58%) of learners said that they value FSQs, with a similar proportion agreeing that these qualifications offer good value for money (56%). These figures were broadly comparable to wave 4 findings.

When it comes to key reasons why learners had undertaken an FSQ in the previous three years, the most common were to progress in their studies (32%) or to improve their English, maths or ICT skills (31%). Among learners who had started taking an FSQ, the top perceived benefits of doing so were to be more confident using (27%) or improving (29%) their English, maths or ICT skills.

Comparably, it was most common for learners to say that they decided to take an apprenticeship because they can learn new skills on the job (37%), in order to find a better job (30%), or to improve their skills (28%). Learners also had a lower understanding of apprenticeship EPAs than providers, but higher than employers, with under half (45%) of learners reporting a good (very or quite good) understanding.

All provider perceptions

Overall, providers were more knowledgeable and showed higher levels of agreement towards each of the qualifications than learners and employers. This was the case for VTQs, FSQs and apprenticeship EPAs.

The vast majority of providers (85%, a decrease from 92% in wave 4) reported that they value VTQs, compared to 71% of learners and 45% of employers, which was comparable to wave 4. Approximately two-thirds (68%) agreed that VTQs offer value for money among providers, which was a decrease from 76% in wave 4. This was, however, comparable (not statistically different) to wave 3 (63%).

Providers were also the most likely group to agree that they value FSQs, with 65% agreeing. This finding was also observed in wave 4. Just under half of providers (47%) agreed that FSQs offer value for money, which was again broadly comparable to wave 4.

Understanding of apprenticeship EPAs was higher among the provider group in comparison with employers, with three-fifths (58%) of the provider group reporting having a very or quite good understanding of these. This was comparable with wave 4 (61%).

Awareness that EPAs are specific to apprenticeship standards was also highest among the provider group at 78%, followed by learners (69%), with employers reporting a much lower understanding (18%). These figures were broadly comparable with wave 4 findings.

Employer perceptions

In comparison with providers and learners, employers tended to be less knowledgeable and less positive about qualifications. It is worth noting, however, that employers were particularly likely to return neutral responses such as “Don’t know” or “Neither agree nor disagree”, rather than specifically indicating either agreement or disagreement. This was the case for VTQs, FSQs and apprenticeship EPAs. Whilst over two-fifths (45%) of employers reported that they value VTQs (comparable with wave 3 findings), this was lower than the value reported amongst the provider and learner groups. A similar proportion of employers (42%) also reported having a very or quite good understanding of VTQs. Employers’ understanding of FSQs was lower than of VTQs, with approximately one in four (26%) having a very or quite good understanding of them, which was broadly comparable with wave 4 levels (28%).

Organisation size remained a key factor influencing levels of understanding of qualifications and EPAs and employers’ likelihood of holding positive perceptions of them. Large employers were more likely than smaller employers to be aware of each of the qualifications. Additionally, among employers who have at least some understanding of apprenticeship EPAs in their sector, 15% reported having a very or quite good understanding of apprenticeship EPAs, the same proportion as wave 4.

Perceptions of the qualifications system in 2021

Overall, providers and learners were more positive than employers towards each qualification type in 2021. As previously noted, however, employers were particularly likely to return neutral responses. There was relatively high agreement that in 2021 VTQs were trusted qualifications among providers (56%) and learners (49%) compared to just 26% of employers. This was also the case for FSQs, where providers (51%) and learners (45%) were more likely to agree that in 2021 FSQs were trusted qualifications than employers (15%) were. The same patterns were seen for apprenticeship EPAs, with providers (43%) and learners (29%) again being more likely to agree it was a trusted qualifications than employers (15%).

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