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Vince Cable is right about teachers’ lack of careers knowledge

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My ‘common sense radar’ was pricked last week by quite an unlikely source – the business secretary, Vince Cable.

I’ve not always been Mr Cable’s biggest supporter, but when he laid out the problems faced by industry in getting youngsters the right skills for the right careers, he hit the nail on the head by identifying teachers as being at the heart of the failure.

Schools now have a statutory obligation to deliver good, balanced careers advice to pupils, but are ill equipped to carry out this important task.

By and large, teachers are graduates who came to their profession at an early age, in fact usually after they have just finished their own education, so why would we expect them to have a broad knowledge of the ins and outs of other careers, especially vocational ones that do not start with a university degree.

As Vince points out: “They know how universities work, they know what you have to do to get an A-level, they know about UCAS forms – but they know absolutely nothing about the world of work.”

And not only do they not know ‘how to direct people to apprenticeships or traineeships’, but, for the most part, they lack the practical experience of such career choices that might give them reason to recommend them to their young charges.

This was a timely observation and criticism made by Vince during National Apprenticeship Week and does indicate that the Government wants to make vocational learning a greater priority in the UK education system. National Apprenticeship Week gave the ideal opportunity for some well-deserved praise for the efforts of apprentices and their employers as well as highlighting the need for more practical training opportunities.

But it ain’t worth having vocational training courses and qualifications just for the sake of it and it appears the Government understand this. Last week Skills Minister Matthew Hancock scrapped 5,000 ‘low value’ adult vocational qualifications, which means that £200m of the adult skills budget can be redirected to qualifications that are far more valuable to the economy.

Anyway, since Vince made his comments I’ve seen a lot of outraged teachers, but I’m not sure why. When people tell me I don’t know a thing about Oxford of Cambridge . . . or any university for that matter, I don’t take that as an insult. It’s just true. I don’t.

And the situation would be just as much of a disaster if you put all the plumbers of this country in charge of career advice in schools. With all the plumbing experts created by that sort of biased service we’d have damn good toilets, but you might want to go abroad if you needed heart surgery.

The point is, currently, if you don’t come from a household where your parents or perhaps grandparents have a trade, you are unlikely to get one either. It’s like going to university used to be 60 years ago. If your parents didn’t go, neither did you.

That’s all changed now; university isn’t a closed shop with entry by bloodline, and that’s what we need to do for other options such as apprenticeships.

Provide balanced, knowledgeable advice for all career directions and one day we might redress both the unemployment and skills problems.

Charlie Mullins is CEO and founder of Pimlico Plumbers

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