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Who'll bang voc ed drum?

Opposition politicians have called for the post of Wales's proposed "vocational champion" to be advertised.

Education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson is trawling business organisations to find a suitable candidate to bang the drum for vocational qualifications. "If employers don't regard them highly then they are dead in the water," she says.

But while politicians, educationists and business people agree, not everyone is impressed. "It sounds like an expensive gimmick," said Mark Isherwood, Conservative education spokesman in the Welsh Assembly. He wants an open appointment but the post is not being advertised.

The appointee will be seconded for two days a week, remaining in full-time work with their employer being reimbursed. Ms Davidson said there would be no discussion with the Assembly before deciding on a champion next month, and it will be a civil service appointment.

Few of those canvassed by TES Cymru were prepared to venture names of potential candidates. But David Rosser, director of the CBI in Wales, said Ms Davidson had talked to him informally months ago.

"I've one or two people in mind but I wouldn't want to give names," said Mr Rosser, who does not feel that advertising the post is necessary.

"There are advantages to doing it this way. Someone with a reputation would be unlikely to be interested in applying for jobs."

Russell Lawson, from the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales, suggested Dr Alan Dowler, director of learning resources at Cardiff university, who also runs his own training company.

"But you need to put money in, no matter how much you have a champion shouting from the rooftops," he said.

Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru's education spokesman, suggested former party leader Dafydd Wigley, who worked for Hoover before becoming a politician.

And Helen Yewlett, currently head of information and communications technology at Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera, Neath Port Talbot, suggested herself:

"I'd be very interested. I've experience of getting children into activities with local industries. And I've worked in industry, further and higher education."

But Peter Black, chair of the Assembly's education committee, said:

"Without a job description it's difficult to say who would fit the role.

Vocational qualifications are the Cinderella of the educational system. But what you really need is investment in training."

Sonia Reynolds, director of Dysg, the Welsh arm of the Learning and Skills Development Agency, said: "Whoever it is shouldn't simply have credibility with industry, they need to reach parents too."

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