Why we need vocational training

Charlie Mayes argues the case for vocational learning

As a Thames Valley-based business, we are always interested to read about new developments coming to the region. I was particularly fascinated to learn about UTC Reading, a new school dedicated to Computer Science and Engineering opening in 2013. University Technical Colleges are a relatively new concept in education, offering an innovative approach to learning for 14-19 year olds that combines specialist programmes with traditional subjects.

What really appeals to me about the UTC concept is the focus on vocational learning. A UTC is fundamentally different from the average school because it is designed with the backing of the local business community and has high-profile industry partners involved in the development of the curriculum, as well as other, more traditional academic partners. This means students can take advantage of real-world based study of the UTC’s specialist subjects while still taking the GCSEs and A-levels they would at school.

This programme has the support of the government and has commitment from universities and employers who are working in 36 locations across the country to open UTCs in 2013, Reading being one of these. I am a real advocate of this approach to learning. Internships and apprenticeships help young people achieve the right mix of skills to help them succeed in their work life. They have their place alongside degrees, which often are not that relevant to the job a young person ends up doing. I’m a classic example - I studied social sciences and psychology at university and then went on to have a career in programme, project and business management. 

The theme of local training and development continued when I read the recent quarterly benchmark research undertaken by accounting firm BDO LLP. This research provides a snapshot of business and economic confidence in the Thames Valley and, in the survey undertaken in July and August 2012, it found that the biggest areas for business investment is training and development (38%). I was heartened to learn that nearly half of respondents (47%) also think apprenticeships or work placement schemes are essential to the Thames Valley’s continued competitiveness. So it would seem that other businesses equally see the value of this type of learning. Vocational learning gives young people more options. It also enables employers to take on staff with work-ready skills (in the case of the new UTCs), or to train young people so that they achieve these skills faster, which I know is often a complaint from employers when hiring graduates.

I was equally delighted to read that the Association of Project Managers (APM) has launched a new Higher Apprenticeship in Project Management (Level 4). Skills institution CFA, the issuing authority for business-related apprenticeships, announced this new programme in August 2012. Upon completion of the new Higher Apprenticeship in Project Management – which is likely to take up to two years – learners will have the technical knowledge required to manage projects and the practical experience of having managed projects in the environments where they have trained.

I believe all these initiatives will help to break down barriers between higher learning and the world of work. They are also creating new apprenticeship opportunities for young people to develop project management skills up to degree equivalent. In turn this will help to build stronger companies and redefine the concept of higher education, overcoming the rigidities associated with some traditional career entry routes while fully upholding the rigour of their assessment. 

For those businesses interested in offering apprenticeships the good news is that it is even easier to get funding for these types of schemes. Recent changes to the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (Age) mean the number of grants available to businesses in the Thames Valley region has been considerably increased. The Thames Valley now has an allocation of 165 grants available worth £250,000, which must be claimed before March 2013. I think Age is a great initiative, as it enables individuals with the skills for vocational and specialist careers to be accepted onto apprenticeship schemes more than ever before.

For the long-term future of British business I firmly believe that apprenticeships fill a key role. Any apprenticeship scheme enables a business to grow its expertise in a cost-effective way with the potential to develop staff more quickly and to go on to become invaluable members of their business.

Charlie Mayes is managing director of DAV Management


Read more on IT education and training