John Berkeley, manager in charge of education and careers at the Rover Group, said the new government had to show leadership over education and training. "I want to see less of 'Do as I say', but more 'Do as I do'. They do a lot of preaching but there are plenty of opportunities where they can lead by example. I want them to demonstrate that these things are for all of us.
"You would have to search long and hard for any public service advertisement that asked for an NVQ or equivalent qualification," Mr Berkeley said. "Politicians say they are trying to promote parity of esteem for these things, but they are missing opportunities to do so by their own actions."
The latest development at Rover is a consortium with nine schools across four local education authorities, working in partnership with several FE colleges, to develop and pilot the new Part One GNVQ Engineering from next September. But such initiatives could be undermined by the effects of the competitive market.
"We have a system . . . based on competition between schools, and between schools, FE and employers to win the hearts and minds of young people. Any new government must transform that divisive system of competition and replace it with one of collaboration.
"I was recently at a school which was introducing a Part One GNVQ in engineering and wished to learn from the experience of others in FE. It had been told by people at an FE college outside its catchment area that they would only talk to them if the school paid for the privilege.
"No government should say this is satisfactory. This is crackers. We need a system which places a premium on collaboration and partnership, rather than one which is insular and competitive."
Mr Berkeley said it was time to revisit the present five-level structure of qualifications. A culture had developed in which work roles and, worse still, people were being categorised, using the levels in the national qualifications framework. "I am very concerned about the risk of a system which has the potential to liberate the condition of people in the workplace, having the opposite effect and assigning levels to jobs and to people."
There needed to be a shift of emphasis from whole qualifications to a sensible, practical, credit accumulation and transfer system across the three pathways of academic, vocational and work-based education. That was the only way to make lifelong learning something more than rhetoric.
He also regretted that these three pathways had been made more distinctive by the Dearing review; there needed to be a more integrated post-16 approach in which aspects of all three are infinitely more valued than any one pathway taken alone.
Increasing staying-on rates were to be welcomed, "but it would be totally wrong to give staying-on in full-time education undue weight and by doing so relegate the predominantly work-based route as a third-class route or last resort".
Mr Berkeley appealed for an end to the proliferation of brands in work-based training: "We have National Apprenticeships, National Traineeships, the rump of Youth Training, Relaunch; why is everyone so determined to subdivide? For those in full-time education, we merely call them students. In the work-based route we seem compelled to introduce more and more categories.
"If there is confidence that apprenticeships have been a success we should be building on that brand. Why do we need more schemes to be separately promoted, separately funded?
"There is very little employer support for more complexity in the work-based route. We should be trying to simplify it. A new government must ensure that whatever any scheme is called, it must provide for progression and breadth, and I mean more than just the key skills."
He also warned that there was a risk in concentrating too narrowly on increasing the number of completions at the expense of raising the level of competence.
"We should be prepared to be uncompromising about work-based learning. We should be required to set standards, including competence for those on whom training depends. We should be prepared to set only those standards which match or give us a competitive edge over our international partners. We cannot do that with quick-fix schemes.
"There was an emphasis on the three Rs in the manifestos, but less on the fourth R - work-readiness - and we have to elevate that at least to the importance of the others.
"If we want the next generation to be unrecognisably different from past ones in terms of their attitude to self-development, we have to foster a positive attitude to work-related learning. If it is relegated to the third choice of last resort that will have monumental implications for the future of the country."
WHAT INDUSTRY WANTS:
* An end to competition between schools, FE colleges and industry. Collaboration is the new buzzword; * Partnerships between industry, adult educators, colleges, LEAs to provide local strategies for lifelong learning; * Urgent attention paid to unemployed 18-24 year-olds; * Natural progression from full-time education to job with training or training leading to job; * End to insinuation that work-related or work-based route is inferior to other pathways; * Examination of standards in primary schools; * Greater coherence and streamlining of vocational qualifications; * Continued support for Investors in People.