V is for vocational… V is for valuable!

By Sarah Lynch

Wednesday 10 June 2015

As a parent with (some) knowledge of the educational choices facing young people, I am already wondering what pathway my son will take…and he’s only five years old! Parental influence is so important, and our views are often swayed by the ‘traditional’ academic routes we might have taken ourselves. But there are other valuable routes available to young people that we should consider.

It’s significant that vocational education is currently high on the agenda, with the new Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) and the Commission on Adult Teaching and Learning (CAVTL) National Vocational Education and Training (VET) Centre. NFER recently contributed to discussions about research priorities for these centres, at the Learning and Skills Research Network (LSRN) workshop.

Also, today is Vocational Qualifications (VQ) day, during which the benefits of practical, technical and vocational learning are being celebrated. The event, which includes a range of activities and awards, raises the profile of VQs and is a welcome reminder of the value of these qualifications to individuals’ life and work chances, business competitiveness and economic growth.

This year, VQ Day is brought into even sharper relief by the government’s target of creating three million new apprenticeships. This commitment to a significant investment in employment and training is likely to give a boost to the take up of VQs. At the same time, it raises the question of what type of VQs individuals, businesses and the Government should invest in.

Today we publish a report which provides some evidence of the value of VQs, to inform these critical investment decisions. The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) asked NFER to carry out a small-scale rapid literature review of what value VQs offered in the UK have for learners, business and the economy.

Value for learnersall types and levels of VQs are associated with increased likelihood of being in employment, and there is also a significant wage return for all levels and most types of VQs . Returns are highest and more long-term for those who achieve a Level 3 or higher. For all qualification types, the earnings returns are highest if the qualification is achieved below the age of 25. There is more employment and earnings value if a full qualification is achieved. These findings suggest we should encourage young people to progress from lower level qualifications on to further, higher levels of learning, and we should support them in completing their full qualifications.

Value for business: employers see VQs as important for the development of skills, contributing to a more productive workforce for employers.

Value for the economy and the Exchequer: there is a positive financial return for most VQs , with particularly high returns associated with Level 3. There is a reduction in benefit dependency and an increase in income tax.

The evidence we reviewed shows that there are real gains to be made from taking up VQs. This suggests that when making decisions about investing in the future, all stakeholders – young people, parents, businesses, awarding bodies, colleges, training providers and government – would benefit considerably from exploring what they stand to gain from making use of VQs. By doing this, some of them will be able to celebrate their achievements and add to the variety of positive outcomes showcased on forthcoming VQ Days.

So vocational education is on the agenda and there are many options that sit alongside the ‘traditional’ routes. The key is to understand the choices available and the value they may have for our children.

Visit our education to employment pages.