Boost needed for vocations

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
The figures you report ("Lingering snobbery against vocational", FE Focus, July 9) from the Department for Education and Skills showing a 9 per cent fall in the number of GNVQs and NVQs last year, will be of great concern to our 135,000 business members.

The UK is facing a critical skills shortage. Our recent survey found that the number of businesses with difficulty recruiting skilled workers has doubled from 20 per cent in 1994 to 40 per cent in 2004. There is little doubt that the Government recognises the scale of the problem.

Chancellor Gordon Brown said at the Skills Strategy One Year On conference last week that skills are the next stage of the economic challenge. Ivan Lewis, minister for skills, said that academic and vocational learning must be presented as equal options to young people.

However, the Government is still failing to deliver. Despite increasing university drop-out rates and more graduates entering non-graduate employment, it remains committed to increasing university admissions to 50 per cent.

The Spending Review commits the Government to increasing the DfES budget to pound;77 billion by 200078 and spending has increased annually by 5.2 per cent. However, seven years later business is still facing huge skills shortages across most sectors and employers are still struggling to find employees with adequate basic skills. Further, with a 9 per cent fall in the take-up of GNVQs and NVQs by the under-19s, the long-term picture does not look positive.

It is time for the Government to withdraw the 50 per cent university target. Instead, the key target must be to keep increasing the number of apprentices to the levels of France and Germany. Career advisers in schools must be trained to present all vocational routes and not focus on purely academic routes.

Most young people are still unaware of the most suitable career options available to them. Further, the provision of adult skills must be demand rather than supply-led to directly address employer needs.

Until the Government shifts the focus of its education and skills policy from academic to vocational learning, the UK's economic productivity will continue to lag behind our main global competitors.

Lewis Sidnick Policy adviser Education and skills British Chamber of Commerce 65 Petty France, London SW1

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