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'Tech Levels, why should we care?'

Jane Scott Paul OBE, chief executive of the Association of Accounting Technicians, writes:

We are only now seeing the true scale of the problem of the lack of alignment between the education sector and the labour market. We lack people with the right skills at the right level. In a nutshell, we don’t have enough people with the ‘highest level’ of skills that are needed to encourage economic growth here in the UK.

The good news is that we are responding to this issue. Last month the Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, Matthew Hancock, commented: "Employers in some sectors report persistent skills shortages, which is why I have been working hard to design a skills system that is rigorous in the training it provides and responsive to the needs of employers.”

I have always argued that employers need to be in the driving seat when it comes to skills development. 

The introduction of the Tech Levels is something I am excited about and believe will make a significant difference. We will be offering another option to our youth, giving them more choice. The Tech Levels will provide a solid, viable and high quality alternative to traditional A levels. They are a welcome innovation alongside the A-level offering.

The fact that these qualifications are endorsed by employers will give young people and parents faith in their quality and the end outcome which is progression. Many high-profile companies, such as Vauxhall, Procter & Gamble and Baker Tilly, have backed the tech levels. And we all understand that the employer backing is essential. 

Alison Wolf observed that many vocational pathways could not show progression into stable employment or higher-level education and training. We now need to change perceptions by highlighting the ‘gold star’ vocational courses that do deliver and are of value. 

Our own AAT Level 3 Diploma in Accounting has been approved as a Tech Level and will be available in the league tables for the 16-to-19-year-old market from September. It is the only approved accounting qualification on offer under the category of business, administration and law.

Rightly we now are looking to our neighbours in Europe, where countries like Sweden, Germany, Finland and Austria have been running a dual-education system for years and their unemployment rates are much lower. It’s finally starting to sink in that we have to develop an education system that reflects the diversity of students and the way they want to learn – a one-size-fits-all approach hasn’t worked. We also have to break down misconceptions that vocational education is for those less academically able. No easy task!  

The introduction of the Tech Levels also means we are opening up the dialogue with employers. Employers across industry sectors must understand that they also have a huge role to play. By employers endorsing Tech Levels, businesses will be more involved in developing the educational framework that will deliver the skills they need now and in the future. 

We hope that Tech Levels will prove to be a good move in the right direction to drive change the FE sector, reforming it to work better and to truly deliver for learners, employers and the economy.

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