When I was young, vocational education was seen as the acceptable route for those who were not ‘academics’. If you were good at school, got the right grades, then you did your ‘A’ levels and went on to university; if not, then you went straight to employment or did a vocational qualification at the local college. How the world has changed. That trend is now in reverse. For many of our most high-flying youngsters as well as those who prefer a practical approach to learning, apprenticeships and technical qualifications are now seen as the best routes into successful career pathways in a wide range of sectors.
I would like to dispel a long-standing and misguided belief once and for all. The term vocational education is from a bygone-era and does no justice to The Leigh UTC curriculum offer. Our students learn high-quality technical skills that help to get them into the best STEM-based careers. Technical education is an equally challenging alternative to more academic pathways. The Technical Baccalaureate (Tech Bacc), for instance, provides students with practical skills and the underpinning knowledge in subjects such as mathematics to be successful in later life. The word ‘vocational’ is also much misunderstood. Just as A Levels in history or chemistry might help you to achieve the ‘vocation’ to become a lawyer or a doctor respectively, The Leigh UTC is providing a range of high-quality technical courses to help students achieve their ‘vocation’ in engineering, computer science and other related sectors of employment.
Some people are not even aware that technical qualifications are offered at degree level. Opportunities for continued personal and professional development are often stronger as a consequence of pursuing such a route over those who have chosen a more traditional pathway. With the Tech Bacc, a student is more likely to be able to start an apprenticeship at Level 4 (HNC), giving them the relevant work-based experience they need to back up what they’re learning in the classroom. The fact that they get to earn at the same time is an added bonus.
It’s no secret that the ever-increasing competition for people with the right skills and experience is going to make it tough for employers to find the right staff to fill STEM-based vacancies. The UK’s job market is undergoing immense change; the new apprenticeship levy and ageing workforce across all STEM careers will see a greater need for highly skilled technicians than ever before. By knowing what skills are going to be in demand and providing young people with the appropriate qualifications that will equip them with these skills, we can help make them more aware of the areas where there is the most demand and encourage them to be aspirational about their future careers.
But don’t just take my word for the merits of a UTC-style technical education. Lord Baker and Sir Michael Wilshaw recently put it so well:
“The UK’s future workforce will need technical expertise in areas such as design and computing, plus skills which robots cannot replace – flexibility, empathy, creativity and enterprise. Right now, this thinking is almost entirely absent from the core curriculum in mainstream schools. In the Digital Revolution, knowledge is as necessary as ever, but it is not enough. It has to be connected with the real world through practical applications ranging from engineering and IT to the performing, creative and culinary arts.”
Lord Kenneth Baker, ex-Secretary of State for Education and Chairman of the Baker Dearing Trust
“I believe university technical colleges have a pivotal role to play in raising both the status and the quality of technical education in this country…. The education systems of a good number of our international competitors are more flexible than ours and are much more geared towards aligning the potential of the student with the needs of their economies. As a result, countries like Germany, Norway and Switzerland, which have excellent technical routes as well as academic ones, have far lower rates of youth unemployment than we do.”
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools