Colleges are flooding the jobs market with "armies" of wannabe hair stylists, beauticians and personal trainers, while failing to produce the next generation of teaching assistants, electricians and engineers, according to a new report.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has claimed that the "skewed" FE sector is leaving as many 20 learners competing for every job in some sectors, yet other industries are left with a massive skills shortage.
In Basildon, Essex, for example, 530 people took hair and beauty courses in 2010-11, but just 28 jobs were available in the sector locally.
Meanwhile, 60 miles away, Cambridge experienced a huge shortage of construction workers. More than 2,000 vacancies for bricklayers, roofers and plumbers were advertised; just 50 people were trained up.
The LGA argued that, despite billions of pounds of investment in FE each year, up to 17 per cent of jobs vacancies in England are the direct result of a lack of relevant skills. It claimed that this is because colleges are being funded for students "studying and passing qualifications rather than on job outcomes".
"Incentivising colleges to steer students on to low-prospect courses, rather than those that will help them gain meaningful employment, is indefensible," said David Simmonds, chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Board. "Young people can make a brilliant career out of hairdressing or personal training, but the huge number of students studying these skills swamps the number of jobs available each year.
"A nationally driven, one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work. We need a shift in training priorities, which prizes and rewards those that help students toward meaningful careers. It's not right that young people trying to secure a good future are being deceived by a system that fails to look at what is best for them, or the taxpayer, and instead focuses on a bums-on-seats approach to education."
In 2010-11, more than 94,000 people completed hair and beauty courses, but just 18,000 new jobs were created. In hospitality, sport and leisure, 97,000 learners were trained to fill just 43,000 positions in roles such as personal trainers and tour guides.
In contrast, 123,000 people were trained to fill 275,000 advertised jobs in building and engineering, while just 27,000 learners took qualifications with a view to joining the environmental industry, leaving more than two-thirds of the 89,000 vacancies unfilled.
To solve the problem, the LGA is calling for partnerships between local authorities, schools, colleges and employers to be created, to match skills training more closely with job opportunities. The Skills Funding Agency is currently trialling the use of outcome incentive payments, meaning that a portion of a provider's budget is dependent on getting unemployed students into work.
Association of Colleges skills policy manager Teresa Frith hit back at the criticism, and said poor careers advice in schools could be to blame. "We are using courses and subjects that raise students' interest in continued learning, which will help to develop their employability and general work skills," she said. "The subjects they study, while important, are not the sole indicator of their future career path.
"Having said that, colleges throughout the country do offer specialised and technical qualifications like those that the LGA claims are needed. If students aspire for a career in engineering, colleges can provide for that. However, the interests and ambitions of students must be taken into account."
Supply and demand
- 810 teenagers in Daventry trained as bricklayers, roofers and plumbers, but just 462 jobs were available.
- 1,140 people in Nottingham trained for 61 available jobs in hospitality, travel and tourism.
- 20 teenagers in Windsor and Maidenhead trained for 43 vacancies in hairdressing.
- 70 teenagers in Harrogate were trained for 387 available jobs in leisure and tourism.