By Jane Scott Paul Career Why it’s time for a new approach to vocational skills 1 Jul 2013 Despite growing youth unemployment and increased tuition fees, university is still the focus of many young people. But the independent Taskforce set up by the Labour Party to tackle the role of vocational skills could change that, argues AAT’s Chief Executive, Jane Scott Paul Although youth unemployment has been less in the headlines of late, the latest NEET figures show this is an issue that hasn’t gone away. To look at this, and the wider issue of how we are supporting young people in their transition into the workplace, the Labour Party set up an independent Taskforce to examine the role of skills policy in offering education and career opportunities. The report, Talent Matters – why England needs a new approach to skills talks about the main focus in education still being on getting people into university – at the risk of alienating the other half of 16-year-olds who do not follow the A Level path. Vocational skills work – and higher apprenticeships prove it High levels of graduate unemployment show that a university degree is no guarantee of a well-paid job. In fact, research commissioned by AAT showed those with a higher apprenticeship stand to gain similar returns to that of a university graduate and once tuition fees are taken into account, this is actually a very prudent decision. Education policy must become reflective of real life and give people the right skills to get into work. The Taskforce also emphasised the need for employer engagement in developing skills-based qualifications. Last year, AAT hosted a roundtable looking at employer attitudes to skills and qualifications and there was a general consensus that businesses need to play a bigger role in skills development. Employer leadership is vital as we must give people skills relevant to the job market, in turn boosting our economy. Why quality career advice is key There was also a recommendation that young people have access to quality career guidance. Independent career advice ought to allow young people to have a firmer understanding of vocational as well as academic options. In an age of cutbacks, it is difficult to make the necessary investment so we have to think of other ways to highlight various opportunities, including embracing social media in a way that engages young people. Education and industry must be better aligned in order to meet the demands of the economy. There are fantastic high quality apprenticeships out there and it’s important that these continue to get the recognition they deserve. It’s time to move forward and address these problem areas, starting from now. More information on vocational skills and accountancy can be found on the AAT website. Jane Scott Paul was AAT's Chief Executive between 1997 and 2014.