Tired old story of a class divide

25th April 2008 at 01:00
Once again, we hear the mantra from the Confederation of British Industry about how the number of jobs "requiring degree-level education" will increase

Once again, we hear the mantra from the Confederation of British Industry about how the number of jobs "requiring degree-level education" will increase. This is a highly disputable claim.

There is a world of difference between a job requiring a degree, and employers creating an academic closed shop by declaring specific vacancies - or entire occupations - to be "graduate only".

To some extent, the increased participation in HE has contributed to this by making it easier to draw such an arbitrary, if not snobbish, distinction about the quality of potential employees.

Just as the widening of motorways leads to more traffic, so the increase in the number of university graduates creates a greater expectation that recruits will have degrees. Logically, this will continue until almost everyone has a degree - at which point, presumably, an MA will become the new "essential qualification" for professional occupations - however vocationally irrelevant the subject.

By polarising the career prospects of graduates and non-graduates in this way, businesses are actually contributing to the socio-economic divide in our country, and overlooking a huge amount of talent.

And the more graduates are turned out, the wider the divide will be - a kind of modernised qualification-based version of the British class system.

When university education was enjoyed by only the few, employers were forced to trawl more widely and take responsibility for training their own staff from scratch - even in occupations now firmly "graduate-only", including architects, lawyers, and even teachers.

It would send out the right message if employers were to take their own advice about vocational relevance when it comes to their recruitment policies.

And if they have a problem with FE, they might consider engaging with their colleges, as they would with any other potential supplier, to influence the service.

Most have never done so. As far as workforce development is concerned, it seems our captains of industry, forever preaching about the virtues of the free market, have in fact become too reliant on the intervention of the nanny state.

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