Earlier this week, prime minister Boris Johnson revealed plans to make higher education loans more flexible so that over-18s in England who do not have A-Levels or equivalent qualifications can access fully funded college courses and space study out across their lives.
The plans aim to remove what Johnson called a “bogus distinction” between further and higher education and allow young people to learn new skills in order to find stable employment in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy.
While this shakeup in adult learning is a positive step to help increase access and upskill the UK workforce and allow individuals to venture into new sectors, pre-16 vocational education, particularly targeted toward the manufacturing industry, is an area that remains in need of vital attention and investment.
Dan Read, director of Engineered Learning in Derby, which provides vocational steel fabrication and welding training for under-16s to help support young people who may not have an aptitude for academia into their adult careers, told The Parliamentary Review about how his business was growing in a realm of manufacturing training that needed more support and was set up in the first place because young people in mainstream education were no longer being inspired to pursue careers in engineering or construction, leading to major recruitment shortfalls in the sector.
Read said: “It has been widely acknowledged that businesses need access to a healthy supply of young recruits to develop their workforces, enhance their businesses and ensure long-term prosperity. We are growing rapidly in an area of manufacturing training that is arguably not receiving the necessary investment. This is an especially significant achievement in the current climate, where businesses are struggling to recruit, and education is at risk of failing to deliver the workforce that British manufacturing employers so desperately need.”
Besides accessing the appropriate support, Read feels that if current training providers can remain attuned to manufacturing employers and their specific needs, they will be able to cater to those needs by offering specialist training courses for youngsters under the age of 16.
Read explained: “Currently, we are developing resources to deliver Level 2 courses to students above the age of 16. This has received a lot of interest from organisations that work with people who are unemployed, are homeless or have left education with few or no qualifications. With the right support, and a belief that they are being supported, students will hopefully gain appropriate employment skills.
“The current skills system is difficult to navigate, but we believe that if we are connected to manufacturing employers’ specific needs, we will be able to offer specialist training courses using individual BTEC units that match each employer’s requirements at pre-16 stages. This effectively embeds functional skills within the courses while also delivering employer-specific training, rather than trying to cover everything in only one course.
“Rather than keeping education and employment as separate entities, we should combine the two to create opportunities and nurture diversity.”
The government has taken steps in the right direction with regards to training of late, but the education sector and manufacturing and construction employers will be waiting to see whether the issues around vocational training for younger age groups will be addressed.