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Employment issues
Give us more vocational training, say businesses

British businesses are telling the government to scrap its 50% target for university admissions and focus instead on vocational training

A task force set up by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), representing more than 135,000 firms, is questioning the government aim that 50% of young people in England should experience higher education by 2010. Businesses are deeply concerned, it says, that the government, parents and educational establishments put too much emphasis on academic and not enough on vocational learning. In place of the academic target, the BCC is seeking an increase in skills training at all levels.

"Skills shortages are endemic in many sectors of the economy and are critical barriers to economic success and growth," it says in a report.

"The task force believes," it continues, "that everyone who stays in post-16 education still needs vocational training as well if they are to progress to a rewarding and productive career. However, much of the thinking seems to have been driven by an educational outlook rather than a real understanding of what is happening in the economy and the labour market. The strategies have been driven by the supply side and employers have been bombarded by a plethora of schemes and initiatives, many of which have not been fully implemented.

The BCC is calling instead for "a simple and coherent demand-led system," adding that, on the subject of higher education, "There should be no target for university admissions because simply increasing the number of graduates will not address the skills shortages facing business."

The government would do better, it says, to place greater emphasis on addressing drop-out rates, which are as high as 45% at some universities.

The owner of an unnamed engineering company, which employs more than 1,000 people, is quoted in the report as saying: "Too many people seem to get pushed through university, leaving only low achievers to apply for apprenticeships. The problem lies with parents and teachers having an incorrect perception that vocational courses have less value than academic courses."

Teachers and career advisers, concludes the report, must 'know about jobs' and not 'automatically present the academic route as first choice.'

In reply, the Department for Education and Skills says: "Our competitor countries are increasing the number of people going to higher education and we cannot afford to be left behind."

It does accept, however, that there is a greater need for all students from 14 onwards to develop greater vocational skills, adding that this is one of the key requirements of the 14-19 Tomlinson review and that: "We are determined to work with employers across the country to build up a healthy vocational ladder of opportunity."

For more information, visit the BCC website at:





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