Higher technical skills 'not recognised by employers'

Despite the push to promote higher technical education, employers are still focused on recruiting graduates, says report

Kate Parker

Higher technical education: Employers are still focused on hiring graduates, says report

Employers recruit graduates whether or not they have the specific skills they require, research published today shows. 

A new report by the Learning and Work Institute, commissioned by the Gatsby Foundation, says higher technical skills will be vital to drive productivity and support social mobility post-Covid – and yet employers are not aware of the ways in which the skills contribute to increased productivity and business growth.

The research says that the lack of higher-level technical and vocational provision limits opportunities for progression, hampering social mobility for those people who do not opt for a university degree.


Background: Reforms of higher technical qualifications announced

More: How to boost higher technical qualifications

Need to know: Government announces plans to rebadge level 4 and 5


The report was conducted from interviews with employers, providers and local stakeholders in the digital sector in the West Midlands Combined Authority area, and the advanced manufacturing sector in the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership area. 

Currently, just one in 10 adults in England holds a higher technical qualification as their highest qualification. There are over 4,000 such qualifications at level 4 and 5 on offer and over 40 per cent have five students or fewer studying them.

In July 2020, the government announced plans to reform higher technical qualifications, with new courses available from 2022. These plans were reiterated in the Skills for Jobs White Paper published in January. 

Higher-level technical education: a blueprint

Dr Fiona Aldridge, director for policy and research at the Learning and Work Institute, said there needed to be effort to improve and increase the higher technical offer. 

“The Skills for Jobs White Paper makes a welcome commitment to investing in higher-level technical education that better meets the skills needs of local business and economies, and provides pathways into rewarding and fulfilling careers," she said.

“Our report shows that while good practice exists, further efforts are needed to improve and increase our higher technical offer. The government has committed to introducing pilots to stimulate and incentivise provision, and our report offers a blueprint for how this can be achieved.”

The research found that, when compared with its international competitors, the UK has a relatively low proportion of the workforce with higher technical skills and qualifications, and says the “missing middle” creates challenges for employers looking to fill their skills gaps, boost productivity and grow their business. 

The report calls for effective engagement of employers and development of provision shaped by employers’ needs. It also highlights the need to develop the provider workforce, and to give teaching staff professional development, as well as attracting new staff with industry expertise.

'No quick fixes'

Ginny Page, director of education programmes at the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, said there were no quick fixes to boosting higher technical education.

"We welcome today's report into this important and complex area of education. The government has laid out its vision for higher technical education, and today's report provides greater insights into how market failures at local levels occur, and makes concrete recommendations for how to address these," she said.

“There are no quick fixes when starting from such a low base. The report highlights how building effective, lasting collaboration is key, and shows what opportunities can then be created to raise skill levels and improve job prospects in local communities. We thank all those who took part in the research during a very challenging time."

Clare Boden-Hatton, head of skills delivery at West Midlands Combined Authority, said: “The growing policy focus on higher technical education is welcomed and chimes with our regional ambitions to develop the higher-level skills offer. National policy provides a framework to develop local provision and, when combined with local ambition and powerful partnerships, can be a driver for change. 

“It is vitally important, however, that alongside developing the education offer that both regionally and nationally we make sure that these learners can access first-class opportunities across a range of sectors by engaging employers in the reform process. It is through this combination of activities that we can seek to address this long-standing challenge. With the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, automation of jobs and the pace of technological change, it is needed now more than ever.”

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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