Opinion

Why A-level qualifications no longer dictate success in business

4 min read

20 August 2019

Each year, the media focuses primarily on A-Level results, perpetuating the myth that this route is the only way to a worthwhile, long-term career.

There was a watershed moment last week in the world of employment and skills that brought a smile to my face.

Whilst it definitely wasn’t the employment figures, which saw the jobless rate creep up by 13,000 to 1.3million, it was the sight of BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern reporting live from a college on BTEC results day.

There’s hope in our young people

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Young people with vocational qualifications are carving out their own success.

There is a groundswell of people, mainly those that run businesses or are responsible for the recruitment and training of employees, that believe that taking an academic path doesn’t necessarily mean candidates will land a decent job at the end.

Beaming out from my TV screen, stood alongside Steph was a group of motivated and talented young people who had worked hard to achieve vocational qualifications in sectors that need skilled people, such as, of course, plumbing and home services, as well as health and social care, hospitality and engineering.

These kids will form the workforce of the future and need to be given the credit they deserve for choosing the practical route.

There’s a seachange happening

Alongside apprenticeships, these types of courses provide the skills and experiences many employers crave. And the BBC’s decision to broadcast from a vocational college represents a growing shift in the interest in BTEC courses.

Estimated figures suggest that just under 250,000 students completed BTEC National Qualifications in 2019, compared with about 300,000 who sat A-Levels last year.

The Government has woken up to the benefits of vocational training and, although they haven’t given Apprenticeships the backing they should and the Apprenticeship Levy has been a disaster, the introduction of T-Levels in 2020 will go some way to further embedding practical training into the curriculum.

Let’s change the messaging

Offering students a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on the job’ experience, the T Level qualification will be the equivalent of three A-Levels.

Of course, BTECs and Apprenticeships can lead to securing a place at university if that is what a young person needs for a career in, for example, chemical engineering or aerospace perhaps.

In fact, around 20% of university students in England are accepted onto Higher Education courses after studying only BTEC Nationals.

What should be happening is a clear message to universities that they are outdated and put their own financial interests ahead of the career aspirations of students.

The time is long overdue for us to stop swindling our young people out of their futures by peddling the same myth that going to university is a guarantee of a prosperous future and that getting a degree is worth racking up tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt from fees.

Shifting our collective mindset

It’s become ingrained in our culture and is limiting the potential of hundreds of thousands of school leavers every year. They are nothing more than businesses taking advantage of naive students desperate for a well-paid career.

The whole situation is so frustrating, especially when the country is desperately screaming out for hundreds of thousands of skilled workers to battle against the huge skills gap we have built up in the UK over the past 30 years.

If they evolved their archaic practices and actually offered young people education that will support more than just niche careers and leave others without a hope of landing a job, we might just knock a decent number off those unemployment figures.