Training - 2010 – The year of educational alternatives

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Following a year in which education and training were closely examined by the press, Ann Watson, Managing Director of awarding organisation EAL, looks back at 2009's key moments and reveals her hopes for 2010

Last year was an interesting time for education and training, with the recession having a huge effect on those involved in our sector. The year saw a sharp rise in graduate unemployment, a record number of university applications, and thousands of new apprenticeship places created as the government attempted to combat rising unemployment. 2010 looks to be equally interesting as these new incentives bear fruit. With an election and potential change of government also on the horizon, this looks set to be a fascinating time for the education and training sector.

The university system was featured regularly throughout the year, and sadly not always in a positive way. Back in the spring, the newspapers reported large numbers of cutbacks in traditional graduate job areas, one assumes as a result of the recession. This will have a significant impact on the graduates of 2009, potentially the hundreds of thousands of graduates embarking on new careers. Despite this, the summer and autumn brought news of rising university applicants, as the younger generation were pushed towards higher education in hope of boosting their employability.

Away from the world of university, apprenticeships occupied significant column space when the government created thousands of new places, enticing employers to invest in the young professionals of the future. Incentives like the £2500 "golden hello" mentioned in December's White Paper are a step in the right direction, but a better move would have been to offset apprentices wages against companies pre-tax profits, or to offer the sum as a contribution to the apprentice's first year salary.

While there will always be questions around the various enticements, any pro-active moves by the government relating to apprenticeships are warmly welcomed, due to their largely positive effect on raising the profile of apprenticeships. This directly benefits the young people who may not have considered this route by making them aware a way of entering their chosen industry in a way which allows them to earn a living while they study. The government has seen an increase in apprenticeship places of more than 165,000 since the 1996-97  academic year, and these numbers will hopefully increase following the introduction of the Young Person's Guarantee at the end of 2009. It would be great if 2010 saw apprenticeship numbers continue to rise as the gap in numbers of people studying vocationally and at university continues to decrease. This may be a hard ask as employers, who provide vital apprenticeship places, continue to feel the squeeze as a result of the recession. 

I hope this year will also see the recognition of the value of NVQs. Despite being used across a wide range of industries for more than 20 years, in some quarters they are not being given the recognition they deserve. Shadow education secretary David Willetts' comment in September 2009 that "NVQs have negative value on the labour market" was uninformed. His view dramatically underplays the value of the qualifications, which are accessible to a wide range of learners. They often form a key aspect of the apprenticeships which play a valuable role in the development of the next generation of skilled workers. As well as providing proof of competence, they give the individual confidence in their own skills as they receive recognition of their accomplishments. I hope that 2010 will see these qualifications gain the respect they deserve.

The endorsement of apprenticeships and the skills sector by the Shadow Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and higher education John Hayes MP at EAL's recent Skills for Economic Success debate was most welcome, if a little at odds with his colleague's views. Given the vital importance of training as a means of safe-guarding the future success of our sector, any new policies must be carefully considered before they are introduced. Regardless of which party is in power, there needs to be a cohesive party line if legislation affecting the vocational sector is going to be brought in.

2010 is shaping up to be an exciting year for education and training, and we welcome the challenges which it may bring. We are proud of the fact apprenticeships are becoming more commonplace as a means of entering a new industry, and hope that their growth will continue to have a positive effect on the way in which vocational training is regarded. For those who are currently in training or considering it I urge you to take any opportunities offered to you in 2010 that will broaden your skill set.