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News: Students told – choose vocational courses over ‘meaningless’ degrees

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Too many students are pursuing “meaningless” low-level degrees rather than vocational courses, leaving the UK at risk of a deepening skills crisis, an industry qualifications body has warned.

As thousands of young people prepare to collect their A-level results today, Excellence, Achievement and Learning Ltd (EAL), which oversees qualifications in sectors such as engineering, manufacturing and plumbing/electrical, said that the “disconnect” between education and industry could lead to the skills gap getting worse before it gets better.

Elizabeth Bonfield, head of business innovation at EAL, warned that “ignorance, prejudice and poor careers advice” is leaving youngsters unprepared for successful and rewarding careers in industry.

“This is a grave situation which has been in the making for decades,” she said. “The pursuance of low-value, often meaningless university degrees is still being led by those that influence the decision making of our young people.

“Parents and educators are still leading huge numbers of able young people down the wrong path towards unemployment or dead end jobs. This is nothing short of a ‘charge of the trite brigade’ – a national tragedy.”

EAL has proposed a series of measures to address the situation, including a UCAS-style clearing service for apprenticeships and traineeships, an urgent inquiry into the careers service, as well as cross-party talks with government, educators and industry.

“Industry is still a vital component of the British economy – which has weathered the recession and is growing fast,” added Bonfield.

“We need one million new skilled workers in the engineering sector alone in the next six years to cope with demand – and as it stands that just won’t happen.”

Yet a separate report by British Gas, published this week, revealed that 41% of the 1,000 young people surveyed are considering an apprenticeship instead of a university degree, mainly due to the ability to ‘earn while you learn’.

In response to the survey, skills minister Nick Boles said: “School leavers are rightly considering an apprenticeship as a serious option when deciding their future.

“With over 1.8 million starts since 2010, and our reforms to improve their rigour and quality, apprenticeships are now a respected and rewarding route in to the world of work.

"We are putting employers in the driving seat of the design and delivery of apprenticeships so they can equip learners with the skills their businesses need to grow and compete."

However, a report out earlier this year by the Industry Apprentice Council found that careers advice for school leavers is extremely poor, with just 9% of the 600 apprentices questioned stating that they found out about their apprenticeship through a teacher or careers advisor.

Less than a quarter were encouraged to look into apprenticeships by their school or college, while over half said they simply used their own initiative, the survey revealed.

According to EAL, there were around 800,000 people on apprenticeships across a wide range of sectors in 2012/13 compared to nearly 2,500,000 taking university degrees.

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Lucie Mitchell

Editor, HRzone.co.uk

Read more from Lucie Mitchell
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