In it together
There have been a clutch of new government policy papers in the last year looking at vocational education in England. The most recent, published last month by UKCES, is the Whitehead Review. Nigel Whitehead started his career as an engineering apprentice and now runs BAE Systems, which seems like a pretty good advert for apprenticeships to me. Actually the catastrophic collapse in over 24-year-olds applying for apprenticeships, following the introduction of loans, suggests we need as much good news as possible if the sector is not to stagnate.
There's lots of good stuff in all the recent policy pronouncements including the need to de clutter the provider field. There are an incredible 19,000 regulated vocational qualifications in England. Other proposals are to make quality assurance more outcomes based (something the UK is pretty good at actually) and closing the gap between further and higher education (something we are not good at). It's far too hard for someone with a level 3 or 4 vocational qualification to compete with A Level students for degree courses.
One idea runs through all the policy and it's a very good one. The government has stressed the need for vocational education to be employer led and indeed have established a series of pilots to support this. Ensuring that training meets the needs of employers - public, third sector and private, is, of course, essential. Hopefully the Employer Ownership of Skills pilots will highlight how this works best. We do though need to remember that currently most people on training courses are not there because their manager identified a training need with them. Work is needed to build employer and L&D capacity and capability. The good idea will help and it's the proposal to set up training Industrial Partnerships.
Effective learning is a partnership between the learner, learning and her workplace. Discussions about what training is required and the best way to deliver it should also be a partnership. That partnership needs to involve employers, trainers, employees and their trade unions and others with a stake in training. In my area, the NHS, that means patient representatives and carers.
What I like about the Industrial Partnerships, if I have read the policy right, is that they should be bottom up, created naturally within industries, in sectors and localities. I work, for example, with a skills partnership in North West London that includes L&D specialists from each of the local hospitals, other care providers, professional bodies and unions and the two sector skills councils. It works.
As I get older I appear to get wiser. I'm not, in fact the opposite is probably true. The reason I appear wiser though is that after 25 years looking at vocational education most new ideas are really not that new. In the 1980s, I sat on a national Training Group that bought car manufacturers and unions together. That was top down though. Industrial Partnerships can bring the right people together to address issues that really matter to them, like how to we get more young people interested in apprenticeships.