An overhaul of technical education announced by the government may help ease the UK's skills shortages

Streamlining of technical education to help plug skills gaps

A plan to declutter the UK’s system of technical education for over-16s has been revealed today with the aim of attracting more teenagers to technical careers in order to plug skills gaps.

The Skills Plan, announced by the government today, is based on a review of technical education and the apprenticeship system carried out by a committee chaired by Lord Sainsbury.

“Technical education remains the poor relation of academic education,” said Nick Boles, Minister of State for Skills in a foreword to the today published report. “The choice of courses and qualifications can be confusing, and links to the world of work are not strong enough.”

The plan envisions streamlining the system by reducing the number of available courses from the existing 20,000 provided by 160 different organisations to 15 major routes with harmonised standards set by industry professionals.

Professional institutions and organisations including the Royal Academy of Engineering and the IET have welcomed the overhaul, agreeing that the overly complex existing system deters many from choosing a non-college path to engineering.

“We have argued for many years that the qualifications system in England is too complex and difficult to navigate for students and employers,” said Professor Dame Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

“The engineering profession faces a well-documented skills shortage, which improved technical education will help in part to address.”

The first of the new technical education routes will be made available from September 2019 and all routes will have been introduced by September 2022.

The routes will cover a plethora of technical fields including construction, engineering, manufacturing, digital technology, transport and logistics.

“Technical education is an equally valued pathway into engineering alongside the higher education route, but the UK is currently lagging behind countries such as France and Germany, so reform is urgently needed to ensure that we do not fall further down the global rankings,” IET CEO Nigel Fine commented on the plan, which has been described as the most significant transformation of post-16 education since the introduction of A levels 70 years ago.

“More crucially, we were anticipating a shortage of nearly 2 million engineers in the UK before any impact from Brexit, so the opportunity to reform technical education for the long term is absolutely critical.”

The plan also expects a new employer-led Institute for Apprenticeships to be established to regulate quality of apprenticeships.

The routes will also enable switching from apprenticeships to a university degree and vice versa.

“It’s vital for the future health of the UK economy that young people in sufficient numbers develop the engineering skills that employers need,” said Paul Jackson, CEO of EngineeringUK. “Putting employers front and centre of the development of the routes and providing more structured work placements as part of a technical education programme will have a positive impact on the work-readiness of those entering employment, with new recruits and employer both reaping the benefits.”

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