Stronger VET - are we missing a trick

by Tim Oates, 01 April 2015

Ahead of our seminar on Understanding vocational education and training, Tim Oates CBE, shares his views on why the UK continues to face acute skills shortage in critical areas despite all the efforts to transform VET.

If politicians and developers feel that enhancement of quality in schooling is complex, this complexity pales into insignificance in comparison with vocational education and training (VET).

In VET, there remain complex issues of ownership of the curriculum, links with a changing labour market, pay rates, marginal costs, and many more. The drivers and incentives that are felt by the key actors in VET - employers, trainees, instructors, training providers, and the State - combine in very different ways in the different industry sectors. Economic pressures are keenly and immediately felt by the young people who enter a particular sector, and on the employers' motivations to train.

VET has remained an area of frustration for successive governments in the UK; the policy for subsidising VET has resulted in a reduction in employers' propensity to train; the number of private trainers has grown due to funding which was designed to increase volumes in employer-based training; low level, short duration training has displaced higher level long-duration training. All the while, employers continue to experience acute and chronic skills shortages in critical areas. The recent Select Committee report on apprenticeships emphasises the need for a substantial increase in the availability of places on high quality vocational pathways.

Overall VET policy has been relatively insensitive to the way in which incentives, drivers and specific conditions operate in specific industrial sectors. This insensitivity derives from a number of factors: the desire for general policy on behalf of government departments, the difficulties of constructing links with employers, and the speed with which policy can be ‘fine- tuned’ to name but a few.

Unless we engage at this level of detail, 'grand plans' for VET as a whole are likely to continue to result in disappointment."

The work undertaken by Professor Linda Clarke of the University of Westminster and her colleagues opens the door on vital detail and history in the Construction sector - a key industrial sector, domestically and internationally. Linda's research proves that it is only through grasping both the fine detail of the sector and its history that policy makers and developers can understand the conditions which affect VET quality and volumes – and thus design effective policy action. Unless we engage at this level of detail, 'grand plans' for VET as a whole are likely to continue to result in disappointment. 

I believe things are improving amongst policy-makers - for example, the Select Committee report contains insightful analysis and evidence-underpinned recommendations - there is recognition of the need for real apprenticeship, for genuine employer engagement, for increasing quality in VET, for high level programmes. The challenging aspirations for quality and volumes are likely only to be realised through engagement with the shifting dynamic of forces and influences in specific sectors - and to that end, Linda's presentation gives us fascinating insights and pointers.

On Wednesday 29 April Prof Linda Clarke will offer her insights into the VET in the Construction sector at an open Cambridge Assessment Network seminar. Book your place

Tim Oates CBE, 
Group Director Assessment Research and Development, Cambridge Assessment

Before you go... Did you find this article on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook? Remember to go back and share it with your friends and colleagues!

Related blogs

Key bloggers

Tim Oates Blogger
Tim Oates

Director of Assessment and Research

Research Matters

Research Matters 32 promo image

Research Matters is our free biannual publication which allows us to share our assessment research, in a range of fields, with the wider assessment community.