Stars drafted in to spice up training

Amanda Kelly & Michael Shaw

Amanda Kelly and Michael Shaw report on a royal campaign to boost skills.

Prince Charles is leading a new campaign to make vocational subjects more attractive to pupils after discovering that a team of wood-joiners employed in Buckingham Palace were mostly Australian.

Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson, TV chef Jamie Oliver and designer Jasper Conran are among celebrities backing the Prince. He is concerned that too much emphasis on academic qualifications is leading to a shortage of skilled workers.

In this celebrity-obsessed age, he believes showbusiness stars have a key role to play in giving vocational training a "sexier" image. Although his Prince's Trust has campaigned for years to provide youngsters with non-academic training opportunities, his latest campaign follows his discovery that a company working in Buckingham Palace could not find enough suitably qualified British joiners.

The quality of vocational training in this country also came under fire this week from the Adult Learning Inspectorate.

Its annual report concluded that many on-the-job training courses were badly run and of poor quality, with 69 per cent of foundation and 64 per cent of advanced modern apprentices dropping out before completing their courses.

In an effort to boost the image and quality of vocational training, the Prince's Trust and UK Skills, a charity promoting training opportunities through skills competitions, will hold a celebrity-backed show in Manchester in November.

Stars including Ulrika Jonsson, Martin Clunes and footballers Dion Dublin and Rio Ferdinand are also likely to attend the event.

Jasper Conran, who is designing the show, said: "Children who are not good at exams or who are less academic are judged harshly by a system that values academic exam results above all else.

"We need to excite children at an early age about the myriad of opportunities available to them which rarely get mentioned. I doubt you'd get many teachers telling pupils what a fantastic career wig-making can be and how you can travel all over the world with it.

"There are so many skills that children are unaware of and which are dying out because there is no one to do them."

The 80,000 secondary pupils expected to attend the event will be able to try out activities from floristry to operating a TV camera, and watch skilled youngsters compete to become the best electronic security installer or fish fryer.

The show is being backed by the Learning and Skills Council and the Department for Education and Skills, which aims to give vocational subjects equal status with academic ones through its Green Paper on 14-19 education. From September, pupils will be able to takevocational GCSEs in subjects such as manufacturing, engineering and leisure and tourism.

Tom Shebbeare, chief executive of the Prince's Trust, said: "We want to make young people proud to do a vocational GCSE, or proud to do a vocational course."

SkillCity runs from November 13 to 16, entrance is free to schools. Teachers can register at or tel: 0800 061 2261.


Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: "As a young man in Glasgow, I was an apprentice toolmaker before I became a professional footballer, so I know only too well how important it is for young people to learn a skill or a trade.

"At a football club like Manchester United, we have an army of skilled professionals who work very hard to enable us to get the team on the pitch every week. These are the types of skills the event will highlight, which is fantastic."

TV chef Brian Turner will also be there to promote careers in the hotel and catering industries. He said: "Talented chefs and customer-service staff are in big demand. The industry is ideal for those with creative skills and who like meeting people. You get lots of satisfaction when customers are content."

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Amanda Kelly & Michael Shaw

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