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Give all young people a 'skills gap year' to test-drive different careers, FE leader urges

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The UK should introduce a alternative form of gap year which would give school-leavers the chance to try out different careers, a leading FE figure has suggested.

David Harbourne, acting chief execuitve of the Edge Foundation, said the approach could help potential undergraduates to think carefully about their career choices before committing to potentially unsuitable qualifications.

Speaking at the educational foundation’s 10th anniversary lecture, Mr Harbourne said: “It just gives [students] that time after the pressure of studying for exams to calm down and think: what do I really want to do next? If you had a year to let it all filter through during some form of extended work experience, maybe students would start to think, ‘What do I really want to do at university?’ and take vocational courses with a more obvious connection with work.”

Mr Harbourne was speaking after the lecture by Nicholas Wyman, chief executive of the Institute for Workplace Skills. He called for greater correlation between learners' skills and employers' needs. In 2011, figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that 26,000 students dropped out of university after only one year, accounting for 6.7 per cent of all students.

“One of the key issues about first-year dropouts at university is that the course wasn’t what they expected, or were passionate about, after investing so much into getting there in the first place,” Mr Harbourne said.

“A year out would have that valuable socialising element and help you to discover that adults are not all like teachers, while on the other hand proving they’re not all scary either. My daughter did social anthropology and had no idea what she wanted to do at the end of it. A family friend of ours did the same but dropped out in her first year. Now she’s realised what she really, really wants to be is a midwife.”

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