FOR ALL THE talk of equipping young people for employability to meet the challenge of global competitiveness, work-based training in England continues to languish in its traditional place as a last resort. What is more, unless strenuous efforts are made now to transform its status and provide equal opportunities for progression, it is likely to suffer further with the implementation of the Learning to Succeed White Paper.
With the demise of the training and enterprise councils and the introduction of an integrated approach under the new Learning and Skills Councils, the work-based route will be left without a powerful champion at either local or national level. Given the marginal place it already occupies in post-16 provision, it risks losing ground still further to academic and vocational education courses.
The post-16 playing field needs to be levelled before play starts in April 2001. Time is short and four key steps need to be taken now if work-based learning is to realise its full potential in developing the next generation for work.
First, we need to get rid of the present three-track model, in which the options at 16 are presented almost exclusively as a choice between academic, vocational or occupational qualifications. In its place should be a two-track model, one predominantly institution-based and the other mainly based in the workplace, but with key skills as a common component in both. The approach should integrate learning across the present general, vocational and occupational pathways, placing greater value on achievement in all three areas.
We must move swiftly to implement the skills task force recommendation that work-based programmes, such as Modern Apprenticeships and National Traineeships, should incorporate continuing general education and an appropriate vocational education component. Some of these schemes, notably those introduced by the engineering sector, already require the inclusion of relevant vocational education, ensuring that work-based learning can provide the same opportunities for progression to higher education as its academic equivalent. However, other sectors have been slow to follow suit and, although Lord Dearing made similar recommendations as long ago as March 1996, the Government has so far shown little enthusiasm.
Third, we need to unite the present confusing array of work-based schemes within a single overarching national framework. Building upon the skills task force proposal for foundation apprenticeships to replace National Traineeships, the term Modern Apprenticeships should become an umbrella title, a '"brand" embracing all predominantly work-based education and training to be regulated and funded under the future Learning and Skills Council.
Each sector's national training framework would incorporate a coherent succession of programmes, designed to encourage continuity and progression and each defined according to level as elsewhere in post-16 provision, not by labels which, as at present, convey nothing about the standards of achievement involved. Foundation apprenticeships would be followed by advanced apprenticeships, with higher and graduate apprenticeships completing the framework.
National training frameworks, functioning as the work-based component in a new two-track model of post-16 provision, must provide the same scope for access to higher education as their institution-based alternatives. If work-based learning cannot offer similar or better opportunities for progression, it will not be considered as important as general or academic learning and achievements. Unless work-based learning is held in sufficiently high regard, there is very little prospect of learning at work being given a high priority in adult working life.
The author is Rover senior fellow at the Department of Continuing Education, University of Warwick