Work-based learning must be included in all vocational courses, says OECD

Darren Evans

England must put work-based learning at the heart of its vocational education system or face a growing skills gap, a major international report warns.

The report, Skills beyond School, published by OECD today, examines and compares post-16 vocational training systems across 20 countries.

It says work-based learning should become a mandatory part of all vocational education programmes in England, describing it as a “powerful tool” for developing skills and helping students find work.

It points out that poorer countries, such as Romania, and countries with very little history of employer engagement in the vocational system such as Sweden, have successfully introduced mandatory work-based learning in some of their vocational programmes. Spain, which is suffering from high rates of youth unemployment, has adopted a similar approach. 

The report also calls for a “drastic simplification” of the awarding bodies system in England, which it currently claims has “very serious drawbacks”.

“The proliferation of competing qualifications in England undermines the labour market value of vocational qualifications, and prevents employers from engaging effectively in the construction of qualifications,” it says.

It also calls for the expansion of higher level vocational programmes, and recommends that people with valuable industry experience are helped to become teachers in FE colleges.

Simon Field, lead researcher for vocational education at the OECD, described the report as “one of the broadest and most systematic studies of training and education systems internationally ever undertaken”.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), which supported and funded the full review in England, as well as country commentaries for both Scotland and Northern Ireland, welcomed the report.

Michael Davis, its chief executive, said: “The OECD’s findings are exceptionally strong, and we support the view that higher level vocational training must have a clear line of sight to a job. Employers must be as close as possible to training to ensure the skills people develop are the ones businesses need.”

Martin Doel, chief executive at the Association of Colleges, said: “Ensuring workers have basic skills is important, but what is even more important is that education does not stop when someone enters the workplace.

“Continuous professional education should continue through working life. Colleges in England already work with an average of 600 businesses, creating qualifications to match their requirements and helping their staff keep their skills up-to-date and are always ready and willing to do more.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “We are committed to making education more closely aligned with the world of work. We are giving employers the power to help develop the workforce of the future through industry designed training and employer-led apprenticeships.

"More than 1,000 companies are already involved in designing high quality apprenticeships and leading employers such as BBC and National Grid have committed to create several thousand more traineeships over the coming years.”

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