Parents' belief in A levels misplaced

August 18, 1995

Industry is suffering because of the serious mismatch in the attitudes of employers and parents towards education and training, a new survey shows. Most employers decried academic qualifications as irrelevant, while most parents encouraged children to take academic rather than vocational qualifications.

A survey of 430 employers, 417 parents and 420 young people, commissioned by the Business and Technology Education Council and conducted by Gallup, shows that 51 per cent of firms think that their profitability will be affected over the next 12 months by a shortage of skilled 15 to 18-year-old recruits. This is attributed to the fact that too many young people are offering academic qualifications rather than work-based vocational courses.

The survey shows that most employers are sceptical about academic studies, while only 25 per cent think these provide useful job related skills and knowledge.

Yet 54 per cent of parents said they would prefer their child to pursue A levels rather than vocational qualifications such as GNVQs. Two thirds (67 per cent) of the young people surveyed think that academic qualifications provide useful job-related skills and 75 per cent believe employers think academic knowledge is important.

John Tate, BTEC's corporate planning and development director, said: "Employers are looking for people with the ability to hit the ground running in the workplace. But academic courses are largely for entry to higher education. They are not necessarily designed for work."

Employers are already taking steps to attract vocationally trained people. One in four is looking abroad for suitably skilled staff, and one in three is taking unusual steps such as offering a 25-week engineering course to 11-year-olds, placing advertisements in every job centre in the United Kingdom, and paying staff commission to find the right people.

Bill Cotton, of the hotel and catering company Gardner Merchant, which employs 35,000 people, expects that people with Modern Apprenticeships will soon be chosen above A-level students because their skills are "more appropriate". He said: "We are not looking for hundreds of managing directors and chief executives. " Even at managerial level, the vocationally trained are starting to compete well with those with traditional academic qualifications. According to the survey, one in four employers think HND students are as well qualified as graduates for graduate traineeships, and one in three would not appoint an HND student to a position of lower standing than a graduate.

Richard Pearson, of Sussex University's Institute of Employment Studies, argued that the report was "focused but superficial", and most employers want academic and vocational qualifications. "It's not an either or," he said.

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