Overcoming the economic downturn – the global rise of vocational training

Governments around the world are waking up to the fact that a skilled workforce is a key driver in the recovery from the current economic downturn. Companies are no longer willing to spend time and money on training school leavers and university graduates to meet the standards of the workplace, and so are putting pressure on governments to ensure that school and college leavers are “work ready”.

There has been a gradual change in attitudes towards high quality technical, professional and vocational training and internationally recognised qualifications among parents and those who influence students. They have found that traditional academic education does not necessarily provide a direct route to employability and career success for young people.

Vocational training and qualifications have become the hottest topics in the world of education, attracting significant investment from governments and companies. A well-trained, productive workforce delivers greater returns for an employer, leading to greater rewards for the employees and greater spending power within the community. And effective vocational education also works to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots leading to greater social cohesion. Such capability is also a magnet for foreign investment as international companies seek quality skilled local workforces in setting up regional operations. The trickle down effect of properly planned and implemented government skills training systems are plain to see.

The UK leads the way in the skills revolution

Many governments and corporates worldwide are looking to the British vocational system when implementing educational reform or training programmes. One such country is Kazakhstan which, despite the economic challenges resulting from falling oil prices and the crisis in the banking sector, has maintained its commitment to the State Plan for Vocational Reform 2008-2012. It has made available a sizeable budget for the improvement of national college infrastructure, curricula, teaching standards and student experience, and educational establishments across the country are now working closely with the best of the UK’s vocational education and training providers and suppliers to successfully implement the Government’s ambitious plans.

Matthew Anderson

Matthew Anderson

The UK has a long history of workplace training, with a tradition of apprenticeships that can be traced back almost 1000 years. During the 1990s it revolutionised education with the introduction of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), developed with employers, via specific industry councils, to reflect the changing face of industry and the national economy. NVQs introduced competence-based testing relating to the modern workplace, which means that employers can be confident that new recruits and existing workforce can demonstrate the skills and knowledge required for commercial success. These have now evolved into Certificates and Diplomas on the Qualifications and Curriculum Framework (QCF). This more flexible approach enables employers and students to select from a wide range of competence and knowledge-based modules to build an internationally recognised qualification that meets both the general and specialist needs of the workplace. They are completed in the workplace or in a relevant college environment, and are available in almost every industrial sector; from agriculture, engineering and financial services to vehicle maintenance and tourism, and at all levels from beginner to experienced professional.

Even in these difficult times, continuing skills shortages have meant that candidates with the right skills are thriving and achieving significant salary increases across a range of industries, and so technical and vocational education and training has stepped out from the shadow of academia to lead the way to an economic upturn globally.

The value for money alternative

In times like these, when budgets are tight, vocational education provides real value for money. Colleges and training providers within the UK vocational educational system are turning out skilled, work-ready graduates for half the price of a university course with an internationally recognised qualification and relevant industrial experience. Students can also progress on to the final years of a university course to obtain a degree. They then leave with two qualifications, and increased career opportunities. Equally important for the student, the UK college system offers a fantastic user friendly product, with all the support and encouragement they expect.

Making the right connections

With such a wealth of experience and internationally recognised qualifications, it is no wonder that the world is turning to the UK to help them establish and embed high quality vocational training programmes. In order to ensure that the right connections could be easily made, the UK established a single body for sourcing technical, professional and vocational expertise, programmes and equipment.

TVET UK provides international ministries, public and private sector providers and employers with a single gateway to the best colleges, awarding bodies, national agencies and equipment suppliers in the UK. These organisations have proven experience in delivering high quality programmes, qualifications and equipment to governments, corporates and educational institutions both in the UK and worldwide. It has been working with the Kazakh Ministry of Education and Science for almost two years supporting the work of the State Plan for Vocational Reform 2008-2012, and to date has set up more than 40 partnerships with Kazakh colleges to help deliver this ambitious project.

In the words of the world renowned skills expert, Lord Leitch, in his 2006 UK Government report , achieving world class skills is the key to achieving economic success and social justice in the new global economy: ‘High quality vocational education and qualifications are crucial to building world class skills and ensuring commercial success and economic competitiveness in the current downturn.’

Matthew Anderson and Mel Pierce

About the authors

Matthew Anderson, Director of TVET UK, has more than 15 years of experience within the vocational education industry. He has a wealth of international experience in qualification design, promotion and implementation. He speaks at conferences and seminars around the world on this topic and has written articles in support of the vocational agenda.

More information on the work in Kazakhstan undertaken by TVET UK can be found at www.tvetuk.org

Mel Pierce is a freelance communications consultant and writer specialising in the education and training sector. Prior to this Mel spent 11 years with City & Guilds a large vocational qualification provider heading up their global marketing communications team. For more information visit www.melcomms.com