The importance of vocational learning at school

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When businesses and training providers work with schools new doors can open for young people, says Fay Gibbin

There’s no question that some students thrive outside of a classroom environment and are motivated by learning that’s clearly linked to an occupation and real experiences. However, more needs to be done by those in industry, training providers and government to provide a greater awareness at secondary school level of the opportunities available to students.

For example, at Busy Bees Training, we recently held our annual Greens to Gourmet competition, which challenges food technology students from secondary schools across the West Midlands to create nutritious, wholesome dishes in a ‘ready, steady, cook’ style challenge. This tests not only their catering skills but also their ability to work under pressure and in a real-kitchen environment. This kind of initiative allows young people to stimulate their minds in ways that might not be possible in a classroom environment.

Undoubtedly, it’s crucial that students continue to acquire key skills through a combination of classroom-based learning and practical activities, and many are able to do this through their secondary education. However, I know from personal experience that schools are under so much pressure as it stands to deliver exceptional standards that providing every student with the time to think about their future learning route might not be possible. Therefore, it falls with training providers and businesses to work collaboratively and with schools to provide opportunities that give a taste of life outside of the classroom.

Reality shows

There are multiple benefits to providing students with vocational learning experiences; the main one being to give young people the confidence to realise their potential. We need to ensure their minds are stimulated and the options are given to students at an early stage in their development so they are able to make informed decisions about the various vocational routes available to them. So, how can this be done in a way that captures young people’s imaginations and provides them with excitement for the future?

Vocational learning gives students context to their learning through real experiences that they can relate to. Some people naturally excel in the classroom arena and that’s great, but for others, they need to be inspired through learning that is geared towards an occupation.

We need a united effort across a broad spectrum of industries to show students the opportunities available to them. Responsibility doesn’t just fall with one provider, company or government department here. Providing talks, open days or taster sessions should all be on the agenda as part of a collaborative approach, working with schools to inspire students to understand how and why a vocational learning route could benefit them.

Practical experience

In a latest government survey of UK employers, 210,000 organisations said they had at least one position but not the skills or talent required to fill it. That’s six percent of all employers facing a skills shortage, a fair increase from the 150,000 reported in 2013. This only furthers the appetite by employers to find skills that can only be acquired by working in industry and training as you learn, as opposed to the more traditional higher education route.

Vocational learning experiences can be teased into secondary school life. This isn’t about simply plugging apprenticeship courses but to practise exactly what such training preaches – giving students the opportunity to try a new experience. Through hands-on experiences, such as workshops, competitions, and challenges, we can offer young people the freedom to express themselves and bridge the gap between education and employment.

In 2014/2015, the number of people participating in an apprenticeship in the UK stood at nearly 900,000, but more can be done to encourage pre-16 students to think about future vocational training opportunities by informing them of the many benefits they provide and positioning them as equal in value to a degree. There is much more that can still be done by those in industry to help young people of today realise their potential. For some individuals, it is only when they reach the age of 16 that they begin to consider the career options available to them. Vocational learning opportunities should be woven throughout a child’s journey through secondary school, particularly in subjects that have a focus on practical skills, inspiring them to develop a passion for their chosen area of study and consider a more hands-on route to a successful career.

Fay Gibbin is a training manager at the Busy Bees Early Years Training Academy.