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Thursday, 19 August 2010

Chamber Calls For Skills Rethink As A-level Successes Result In Disappointment.

Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Firstly, many congratulations to everyone celebrating successful A-level results today.

Now to spoil the mood with the harsh reality that many students will today not just find out their results but will also discover the fact that success at A-level is no longer a guarantee of a university place and many are left wondering where now?
I’ll come back to that in a minute.

As a first step in preventing any more repeats of the above, we have today called on the Government to rethink its approach to skills policy to prevent any more students discovering that their dream of going to university is going to end in potential disappointment.

The Chamber has led the response on behalf of the British Chambers of Commerce to the recent Government consultation paper: “Skills for Sustainable Growth”.

This consultation paper seeks views on the Government's future skills strategy.

Our response welcomes much of the new Coalition Government's approach. However it picks out a number of areas where we feel the strategy needs amending or strengthening. These include:

• the need for a much more coherent and integrated approach by Government departments and agencies
• the need for a much more flexible and responsive approach which recognizes that individuals and employers typically do not want full qualifications, but rather to address their immediate skills needs and to then have the potential to build on these in due course
• the importance of gearing skills provision to meeting labour market needs and priorities
• the need for better information and advice and guidance, particularly for young people, where there is a particular concern about the threat to careers and advice in schools and Further Education colleges
• and the need for fundamental reform of higher education

The last two of these points are particularly relevant to today's developments.
Our response also argues that the Government needs to act urgently to improve drastically the quality and impartiality of careers information and advice for young people, which is currently at risk from local authority cutbacks.

So, that’s what we’d like to see in the future but what of today?
Over the last week or so the Chamber has been banging the drum on apprenticeships as being a real, viable alternative to university. The government sees apprenticeships as being ever more important for the future success of the UK, so much so that funding has been increased to enable 50,000 more apprenticeship places by spring next year.

The important thing is though that whilst this is an alternative that some disappointed students will take up over the coming weeks some will still see it as a second class option.

It isn’t and should never have been put in that position.

It’s not just the view of policy experts though. Here’s what Jo Lynch, HR Manager at Thomas Storey and Chair of the Chamber’s Employment and Skills Committee has to say: “It is a tragedy that so many young people have been encouraged to believe that a three- year full time degree course is their entitlement and the only route to a good job and career.

"Ample evidence shows that for many young people this is a fallacy and that they would have been better off going into work at 18 and developing their skills in the workplace through an Apprenticeship and/or part-time courses. We need to rebalance the education system and the recruitment practices of employers so that there is much more emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

"It should be much easier and quite normal for young people to go into work after A-levels and to gain higher skills on the job, through a part-time, flexible approach. The ones that don’t will potentially rack up vast amounts of debt taking subjects of little or no economic value and could be left with lifetime earnings below those of their counterparts who took an Apprenticeship.”

Harsh words and maybe of little comfort to those young people facing some important decisions over the coming days. However the more impact we can have on government thinking the quicker we can get real change made to what is developing into an annual tragedy.

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