Paving a New Road to Higher Skills

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Paving a new road to higher skills
It is becoming increasingly clear that the current “default” degree route to higher skills is not suitable for all. The simple reductionist philosophy of degree, degree, degree needs to change if the UK wishes to aspire to an inclusive model of access to higher skills. Alternative routes should follow vocational and technical pathways to higher skills. With many highly educated youth resorting, in their desperation to find a job, to accepting low skilled work, one may legitimately question why higher skills are needed? The answer is that according to current projections, by 2020 nearly half of all employment will be for highly skilled jobs.

While the traditional route continues to thrive with third level enrolment rates easily outstripping the OECD average, “learn while you earn” models, such as higher apprenticeships and more flexible degree programmes like part-time study, are underdeveloped. This is in part due to myopic career guidance that automatically funnels youth toward University. An entirely modern integrated careers service would see business and educational institutions collaborate on providing young people with impartial information that shows them the bigger picture.

Moreover, the strident loyalty to the University route is potentially damaging the UK’s economic outlook. While third level participation continues to flourish, the jobs market remains stagnant. This seeming contradiction points towards a skills mismatch, which can contribute to increased workload for existing staff, difficulties meeting customer service objectives, loss of business to competitors and delays in developing new products or services. Not exactly a picture of a healthy thriving economy. Worse still is that almost half of businesses are not confident of finding recruits in the future. Changes in tuition fees may have forced prospective students to become more outcome focussed when selecting their degree courses. This trend toward long term planning opens the door to greater business involvement in third level education. This would bring the twin benefits of increasing the employability of students while also acting to close the skills mismatch.

In their latest report “Tomorrow’s growth: New routes to higher skills” the CBI has presented a number of policy recommendations that they believe would radically alter the makeup of the UK’s education system. The recommendations include;

  • Routing apprenticeship funding directly through employers and considering the merits of an apprenticeships tax credit run through PAYE.

  • Reforming student finance arrangements to better incentivise the provision of shorter courses that can respond to employer need more flexibly.

  • Delivering careers inspiration in schools and colleges – underpinned by a support network for the new statutory duty on schools, to ensure vocational routes get highlighted.

  • Building a vocational UCAS-style system, with similar prominence.

  • Putting in place a clear communications strategy to ensure that both students and employers understand finance options for part-time higher education study and Advanced Learning Loans.

Collectively these recommendations are designed to redraw the UK’s educational map by highlighting non-traditional routes to high skills such as high level apprenticeships. Access to information is critical to ensuring that youth are not only aware of the various educational corridors open to them, but also of the funding options available. A future workforce will not be typified by a static skillset, but by the continual updating of skills to match the demands of the market. At present, the UK system places needless roadblocks in the way of working people who wish to up-skill.

To read the full CBI report visit

CBI (2013) Tomorrow’s growth: New routes to higher skills

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