04 July 2013

New qualifications set to boost industry skills

A new type of qualification, announced today, is designed to boost young people’s trade skills and employability – and businesses will play a major role in shaping their design.

The Government wants to launch ‘tech levels’ for 16 to 19-year-olds as an alternative to the more academic A-levels, to offer high quality vocational skill development.

It is hoped that the tech levels will raise the quality of vocational training currently available and produce a skilled workforce for the future.

Industry support for skill development

Before a tech level gets approval, the qualifications for each sector will need to be supported by that sector’s professional body, or five employers registered with Companies House. This process is designed to ‘weed out’ poorer quality vocational courses. The tech levels will offer young people skill development to prepare them for a career in a particular work environment.  More general vocational qualifications, not focusing on a specific sector, will be offered alongside them, which will require university backing.

Exam boards will have to seek approval from the businesses community or higher education institutions to endorse their courses.

Neil Carberry, Director of Employment and Skills at business lobbying organisation The CBI, says the tech levels will require widespread sector support, rather than the backing of just a few companies.

“We’re facing a critical skills shortage in key industries, which risks holding back long-term recovery – that’s why we’ve been calling for tough new vocational qualifications to help bridge the gap,” he says.

“The litmus test is that tech levels offer the gold-standard training that employers want, while not being seen as second-class. Courses must have stretching subject knowledge; rigorous assessment; hard-nosed practical experience; and be a stepping stone to a great career.

“It’s right that businesses will have a strong voice in tech levels’ design but they need to command respect across entire sectors. We must make sure the approval process can show broad industry backing, using subject panels and sector bodies – not just a handful of firms.”

Preparing for the future

Tech levels are set to be rolled out from 2014, with the first cohort’s courses being graded in 2016.

Matthew Hancock, the Skills Minister, comments: “Tech levels will recognise rigorous and responsive technical education.  High quality rigorous vocational education is essential to future prosperity and the life chances of millions.”