With an increasing demand for creative and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) technicians, the need for young people to have a better understanding of technology has quickly intensified. Recent evidence by the Centre for Economics and Business Research predicted that significant economic growth will stem from the UK’s ‘flat white’ industries (technology, advertising and media). It is projected that these industries will help to provide up to 246,000 jobs in London by 2018. As a result, it is important that the UK skills system is able to support such robust growth to adequately meet the demands of a growing ‘knowledge economy’.
Strengthening vocational education has been an emerging priority of government in recent years. As the government continues its reform of the UK skills system, further adjustments have been made to post 16 qualifications with plans to introduce a new Technical Baccalaureate (TechBacc). On 23 April the new structure was officially announced in an attempt to create ‘high-quality vocational and occupational education’, adapting a new performance measure for young people between the ages of 16 and 19.
This alternative route to the traditional A-Level studies is in direct response to Alison Wolf’s 2011 review of vocational education. According to the Wolf Review, the current system of training is not fit for purpose, most notably it stated that: “350,000 young people in the 16-19 cohort are poorly served by current arrangements. Their programmes and experiences fail to promote progression into either stable paid employment or higher level education and training in a consistent or an effective way”.
The new measure which is expected to be introduced in the autumn, and added to the schools and colleges leagues table from 2017, will focus on three key areas: an approved level 3 vocational qualification, a core maths qualification (which will include AS level maths) and an extended project geared at developing and testing skills in communication, research, self-discipline and self-motivation.
This is not the first time the introduction of a TechBacc has been suggested. The Labour party has been quite vocal in the need to establish a gold standard TechBacc to address growing skills shortages in key industries such as technology and engineering. The opposition has also criticised Michael Gove’s new proposal for neglecting to address the ‘forgotten 50 %’. In a distressed labour market, whatever new policies are prescribed, it is important that government initiatives for education marry employer/industry needs with skills development. Educational policies must engage the widest talent pool.
The REC believes that in order for the UK to compete effectively in the global knowledge economy, policy barriers to investing in skills must be addressed and more focus should be placed on building a long term coherent and comprehensive strategy for post 16 training. Government must also work to implement a framework of effective communication that promotes an understanding of the value of a TechBacc qualification to both parents and employers. To date, education policy has been regarded as fragmented and ineffectual. Government must therefore build a programme that delivers transferable skills and provides young people with the power to embrace productive futures.
Author By REC policy advisor Kim Regisford