Headlines: June 14th, 2007



Vocational training is failing thousands of young people, according to a paper published today by the Centre for Policy Studies. It has been written by John Hayes, the Shadow Minister for Vocational Education, who says the failure of the system is a result of a lack of clarity about its purpose.

In ‘Towards a gold standard for craft:guaranteeing Professional Apprenticeships’, he says 47 per cent of all apprenticeships are never completed and that if that failure rate existed for other academic qualifications it would lead to widespread condemnation. Mr. Hayes claims apprenticeships were historically respected by employers and were attractive to young people. The wider public believed they conferred a high level of competence but now they had been undermined.

This, he writes, means it is not surprising that many young people do not develop their talents and that only 28 per cent of school leavers in England and Wales enrol on apprenticeships, compared to about two-thirds of their counterparts in Germany and Austria . In some craft areas, such as construction and engineering, apprenticeships are highly valued by employers, he adds, but in others they have become ‘virtual’ with no or very little workplace training.

Turning to what he sees as the lack of clarity of purpose, Mr. Hayes says vocational education should not be about re-engaging students who have failed academically nor should it be about achieving ‘parity of esteem’ between academic and practical learning by making vocational training more academic. Instead it should provide a rigorous pathway for students wishing to acquire a skilled craft.

Government initiatives such as the new programme-led apprenticeships, he argues, have made the problem worse and he calls for the current topdown, target-driven system to be replaced with one driven by employers and based on systematic workplace training under the guidance of experienced mentors.