Vocational courses could be key to all of Sheffield’s communities benefiting when the region’s economy takes off – but they are often left overshadowed by the traditional academic subjects.
Strong economies depend on employees having the appropriate level of skills and education to support employer needs.
So Sheffield needs its residents, and those around the Sheffield City Region, to have access to the training and education that helps prepare them for work.
This might be to further develop their careers, or make the most of employment opportunities when they arrive for the first time.
Ensuring local people have the right vocational skills and education means that jobs can be filled by those from all of Sheffield’s communities, and that the local population is not left behind even as the region prospers.
This concept is known as ‘Inclusive Growth’, and relates to the idea that the region’s economic growth should create opportunities for residents in all communities throughout the region.
Vocational education and training in subjects such as engineering, technology, construction, health, social care, and hospitality, can get people from our communities on the very first rung of, or further up, the skills ladder.
Being able to understand how something works, or build something, or provide a much needed service to the public means people of all ages can make a tangible contribution to their employers.
Not only is this what employers want, but the practical nature of vocational qualifications can often provide job applicants with a real advantage in a competitive employment market, compared with their counterparts who may have studied only academic qualifications.
However, vocational qualifications are not well understood.
For school leavers, technical training and education is often seen as a second-rate choice compared to more traditional academic subjects such as GCSEs and A levels.
An increase in apprenticeships and the imminent introduction of the employer apprenticeship levy suggests this might be changing, but too many young people, and even those of working age, are still not aware of the technical training routes and types of qualifications available to them.
To address this, the vocational courses offered to young people and adults by general further education colleges need to have a higher profile. This is not just a challenge for the colleges themselves, but also for those providing career guidance in schools, sixth forms and at employment agencies.
Careers guidance needs to recognise the nature of work itself is changing.
Changes in technology and society mean the concept of a job for life is outdated.
New jobs are coming into existence and many traditional jobs are being automated and people need to think about their working lives focusing on continually developing skills and capabilities that can be used for a number of jobs over a lifetime, not a single job for life.
These portfolio careers, where people might do many different jobs for many different employers, will inevitably become more common.
So if an individual has already demonstrated the ability to develop a vocational skill that directly adds value to an employer, this can also indicate a capability to do the same time and time again.
When Sheffield’s economy grows, and future developments such as HS2 and the regeneration of the city centre get under way, a strong vocational skills base should mean it is the Sheffield City Region’s residents that are ready to make the most of the opportunities this growth provides.
While Sheffield has some of the most deprived areas in the country, vocational education matched to future employment needs can help unleash the unrealised potential in all of our communities.
* Related article: It’s time to skill up or ship out