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Jon Kennard


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University is not the be all and end all


Ian Harper discusses the challenges facing young people today and some of the changes that need to be made to ensure a smooth transition from education to the workplace.

It was estimated that 160,000 students were left out in the cold by universities this year, due to the sheer number of applications. Despite another year of record breaking A-level results, students were turned away even after achieving the required grades.

"Society needs a reality check and to stop placing such high prestige solely on those that go to university."

The outlook for young people continues to look bleak, even if they did get into university, the average student can now expect to come out with £25,000 of debt. Compounding this is the fact that 18-25 year olds are expected to be amongst the worst hit during the recession – with many failing to get on the first rung of the employment ladder.

For those fresh out of school a new term, NEETS (young people, aged 16-18, who are not in education, employment or training), has been coined. The sad fact of the matter is that many young people do not have a stable direction in their life and this situation will only get worse unless we act now. If we let things continue as they are this will not only have a negative impact on society and the economy, but it is an enormous waste of young people’s potential. Furthermore, organisations will face major skills shortages in the future if we fail to tackle the problem.

This trend has been going on for a number of years now; going to university + gaining a degree = a sure route into the workplace. But we have seen this year that this formula no longer necessarily applies and regardless, things should be changing in our society. University is not suitable for half of the youth population, despite the previous government’s aspirations; and 'quick sifting' those with 2:1 degrees or higher isn’t going to ensure a talented workforce either – just a homogenised one.

Reality check

Society needs a reality check and to stop placing such high prestige solely on those that go to university. Whilst the UK is boasting its university league tables, businesses are often bemoaning the lack of talent emerging from such establishments, claiming that the education system is not ‘fit for purpose’. A report by the CBI strengthens this notion further when it found that over two thirds of employers "were not satisfied with the business and customer awareness of school leavers."

In fact, speak to many top business men and women they will agree that their most valuable business lessons were learnt on the job – not in a lecture hall. Whilst university and degrees definitely still have their place we need to ask the question why is it that vocational qualifications, such as HNCs and apprenticeships, are still viewed as options for the 'less academically inclined' or 'those good with their hands'? When, in reality, these qualifications offer employers and employees instant skills of instant worth.

"Speak to many top business men and women they will agree that their most valuable business lessons were learnt on the job – not in a lecture hall. "

GE Healthcare, an organisation providing transformational medical technologies and services that are shaping a new age of patient care, recognises the value of alternative qualifications. The organisation has recruited individuals onto its apprenticeship scheme and is supporting some of its employees who are currently studying for their HNC.

Kieran Reddington, engineering team leader at GE Healthcare says: "We have found that HNC qualifications are very practical and linked to the work students will actually be doing once back 'in the workplace' - which is a big selling point for us and a reason why we sponsor staff to study this way.

"The learning and course structure also makes it very flexible which is good for business. Unlike many university courses which stick to the academic timetable ATG Training allows HNC students to take holiday at different times reflecting workplace needs and study is afternoon/evenings which limits the impact on the workplace."

The HNC is still aligned to university measures which means HNC Level 4 students get 120 credits towards university and this counts as year one, which is attractive for individuals who would like to go on to gain a degree.

The point is that apprenticeships and HNC qualifications are valuable and recognised, structured learning programmes which enable individuals to learn on the job, building up knowledge and skills, gaining qualifications and earning money - all at the same time. However, they will not reach their potential in terms of helping organisations secure their future talent pipeline unless we make those approaching school leaving age aware of such opportunities to learn whilst on the job and unless recruiters embrace this form of learning.

Ian Harper is the chief executive office at ATG Training

One Response

  1. Just goes to show that people
    Just goes to show that people go to university for more reasons than to build job-ready skills.

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Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

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