Jan 2015 / Company

Published:Western Mail

The education landscape is changing and vocational learning is growing in prominence. Sector expert Andrew Cooksley explains the latest trends.

Last year Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced his intention to launch a UCAS-style website aimed at helping young people who do not want to go to university.

While prospective university students can UCAS to search for courses, find out criteria necessary to apply and, finally, submit their applications, the options for those looking to pursue a vocational route into employment are more limited. Such a website has not yet emerged, but, along with various other developments vocationally in 2014, Mr Clegg’s proposals do at least demonstrate that the UK Government is serious about getting young people into work.

Indeed, an increased emphasis on vocational qualifications in recent years has already seen the number of apprenticeships in the UK double since 2009 as part of other wider efforts to tackle youth unemployment, which sky rocketed after the financial crisis of 2008. Despite this, two fifths of the UK’s unemployment population are reported to be aged 16-25, although pleasingly youth unemployment has decreased since 2013.

More importantly, such a rate is attributed to the difficult transition between school and the workplace for young people who do not attend higher education. This could be because, while young people attend university have a clear regimented path into employment through the academic education system which includes the UCAS service, the route for the majority of young people interested in vocational training has traditionally been more difficult to navigate.

So the Deputy Prime Minister’s idea for a UCAS-style website will certainly help if and when it comes to function, but in the meantime a variety of other developments have gone from strength to strength and are helping to bridge the gap too, not least the highly successful traineeships.

Introduced as the precursor to the traditional apprenticeship, which due to the competitive jobs market are becoming harder and harder to secure, the traineeships scheme was bought in by the Government as a kind of ‘younger sibling’ to the apprenticeship in late 2013. Shorter than traditional apprenticeships, and offered to prospective learners with no experience at all aged 16 to 18, specifically, traineeships give learners to try their hand at a profession without any long term commitments. So even if they decide it’s not for them, they will have enough experience to gain another traineeship, an apprenticeship or even a job.

This is especially important as British young people will, on average, leave their first job quicker than the average for the EU, according to the EU’s statistics division Eurostat. The possible reasons behind this statistic is that financial and societal pressures on young people in the UK to make a move into their first job as quickly as possible means that they often end up in careers that are not right for them. The hope is that the emergence of the traineeship will be a well-places solution to this. However the introduction of the traineeship has not been without its problems, the principle once being its relatively low profile. Apprenticeships are widely known and have been around in some form or another for years now. But as successful as the launch traineeship has been, it still has some way to go in rivalling its ‘older brother’ in terms of exposure, and the hope is that this will very play out in 2015.

As apprenticeships get ever more competitive, the traineeship is a qualification that can really help young people kick-start their careers, but efforts are still needed to build further on the ever rising profile vocational training as a whole has come to demand in recent years.

In Wales alone, the overall figure for work-based learning provision increased dramatically to over 61,000 unique learners in 2012-13 – higher than any of the previous five years. All this means that businesses and employers are in turn increasingly being empowered to grow the leaders of the future ‘from scratch’ as it were, and that the age-old stigma surrounding vocational training is decreasing more and more as time goes on.

As Wales’ largest training provider ACT Training will be looking to build this profile even further in 2015 and, based on take up figures for 2014, would expect to see the traineeship go from strength to strength.

Andrew Cooksley is Managing Director of ACT Training.