BLOG: Higher Ambitions Summit (afternoon sessions)

More than 200 further education colleges and universities are already offering technical degrees, according to Matthew Hancock, Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, in what he described as “the biggest skills revolution for decades.”

Addressing the Sutton Trust-Pearson Higher Ambitions Summit, he insisted that the reforms proposed by Ed Miliband, Leader of the Opposition, for new technical degrees were already taking shape as part of the Coalition Government reforms including new Technical Awards and a Tech Bacc.

Hancock described the reforms as central to a concerted effort to cut youth unemployment which had risen by 40% to over one million in the decade from 2004 and had seen its first drop, by 135,000 over the past year. “The number of young people claiming benefits has also fallen for 23 successive months,” he stated.

In a summit session on employer engagement and the pursuit of real apprenticeships for all, there were widespread appeals for a flexible approach to the level of support and time spend completing an apprenticeship. The Summit heard of the German experience from Andrea Bodner, Training Manager of Webasto, that two and a half to three years was standard. But employers with successful track records in the UK argued that they could be completed in anything from 12 months to four years, depending on the level of previous skills education and training.

Clare Paul, Head of Entry Level Talent at the BBC described how the corporation had shifted focus from graduate entry  to apprenticeships with remarkable success at every level to higher apprentices. While degree level apprenticeships took at least three years, creative apprenticeships could be completed in one year, she said. “It depends on the complexity of the job and the nature of the environment.”

Frank McLoughlin, Principal of City and Islington College, said the problem of understanding the time required stemmed from the way the view of apprenticeships had been distorted, “The problem is that apprenticeships became a course, not a job as it used to be seen in the 1970s. The key point is that it should be seen as a job with full training and expectation that you will stay in employment afterwards.”

The general concerns over training and apprenticeships were voiced by Andreas Schleicher, Director  of Education and Skills at the OECD, who said it was very hard to get a good vocational skills system. “Degrees don’t mean everything. The UK has unemployed graduates while employers can’t find the skills they need. We need people for what they can do rather than what they know. How do you make skills everybody’s business? Who benefits and who pays?”

Andreas Schleicher went on to stress the importance of engaging a wide range of employers, particularly in relation to careers guidance; “You need people from the real world providing careers guidance.

“You need an independent and comprehensive guidance profession not based in schools. Such information would help people make decisions.  The need is to develop the skills of the whole population, not just concentrating on schools and young people. We are moving from stacking up qualifications to skills-orientate learning often gained in the workplace but not accounted for in qualifications.”