Thumbs down for skills-agenda qualifications

May 21, 2009

The Government's skills agenda is encouraging employers to put their staff through a series of useless vocational qualifications.

This is the verdict of a new book by researchers led by Lorna Unwin, professor of vocational education at the Institute of Education.

The book, Improving Working as Learning, argues that workers are taking too many certified training courses unrelated to employers' business needs, which will not help the country emerge from recession.

Instead, companies should offer staff the chance to learn on the job by solving problems and working in teams.

"All too often, learning is regarded as something separate from work itself and is seen solely in terms of formal episodes of 'training' that can be counted and costed - the bean-counting approach," Professor Unwin said. "All work involves and generates learning, but this is not always recognised by either the public or private sectors."

Improving Working as Learning also criticises the learning and skills industry as "a many-headed bureaucratic hydra, which, in turn, devours part of the funding intended for the 'real' economy".

Derek Longhurst, chief executive of Foundation Degree Forward, said the foundation degree was a "hybrid qualification" that addressed some of the book's concerns about vocational courses.

"There are some key differences between the foundation degree and other qualifications. They are not off-the-shelf programmes like other vocational qualifications," he said.

"At their best, they involve partnership and dialogue between employers and the providing institutions.

"This requires establishing and sustaining workplaces - ever more complex in the 21st century - as learning environments in the ways suggested by the research," Professor Longhurst said.

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