Vocational education is a pathway to a bright future for students
Column by Caroline Kearsey, work experience co-ordinator, Grantham College
Following a year of pandemic upheaval, we have welcomed a return to normal routines at college.
In education however, nothing stands still and change is afoot with new policy proposals contained in the Government’s recently published Further Education White Paper.
The proposed legislation puts vocational qualifications in the spotlight: it’s a long-overdue acknowledgement of the importance of technical skills, describing vocational education as ‘a pathway to a bright future’.
Since the birth of further education in the 1940s, technical colleges have been teaching vocational skills to enable young people to secure ‘jobs with prospects’. Now, as then, businesses look to colleges to supply them with a ready, local workforce, equipped with the specialist skills to meet their needs.
In Grantham, engineering has long been a mainstay of the local economy and our engineering department has kept in step with the industry, teaching each new generation the latest technical skills, right up to the present day where students learn computer-aided design and programming, meeting the demands of 21 st century employers.
The needs of local businesses and the young people we educate are inextricably linked. Meeting these needs is essential for sustaining a thriving local community and economy.
Good qualifications are vitally important but they are only part of the story. Reports issued by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in recent years repeatedly state that, when recruiting, employers value technical skills, but also prioritise character attributes and soft skills, like the ability to aim high and teamwork. A well-rounded vocational education must incorporate these skills if young people are to be work-ready, confident and fulfil employers’ needs.
Our careers and employability programme at college has been transformed this year. We’ve harnessed new digital resources that contain up-to-the-minute labour market information, so students can easily determine growth industries, identifying where there are likely to be vacancies, locally or UK-wide. We’re also teaching essential employability skills, supported by the CBI-backed Skills Builder Partnership.
Our students are learning and practising the finer aspects of communication, collaboration, problem-solving and self- management. They will understand the skills employers seek and evidence them when applying for jobs. They will go on to utilise these skills, along with their specialist, vocational skills, as competent members of the future workforce: employees who are truly valued by their employers.