Vocational training for young adults? Government policy doesn't add up...

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In this opinion piece for TrainingZONE, member Bob Edwards, MD of TBD (Global) Ltd says the government's policy on vocational training appears to be at odds with the training and development needs of young adults.

I recently wrote about the plans that the government have for vocational training and how it seems to be at odds with the previously identified needs of many young adults.

Before I expand on that, let’s look at the evidence. I have taken a broader view than that usually dealt with by this forum, because there are a number of seemingly unconnected initiatives that have a bearing on what it is we are trying to do.

What was said: There are exceptionally poor levels of literacy and numeracy in areas of extreme socio-economic deprivation.
What was done: £400m will be targeted at raising the levels of literacy and numeracy in these areas.
Verdict: Good idea.

What was said: There is a growing divide between the haves and have-nots in the field of available internet access.
What was done: People in areas where this occurs (those of extreme socio-economic deprivation) will be provided with learning centres and even free refurbished computer equipment.
Verdict: Pattern emerging.

Question: How are the people who have difficulty reading and writing going to get the best out of their computers?

What was said: There is a skill shortage in a number of fields that needs to be addressed at an early opportunity.
What was done: 'We will take vocational training into the classroom'.
Verdict: At the expense of spending time on literacy and numeracy?

What was said: There is a skill shortage in technical areas in this country.
What was done: 'We will open our doors to the specialists of the world (because to home-grow our own they would first need to be able to read and write and we obviously don’t have the time for that)'.
Verdict: We have chased out those we already have with the introduction of IR35.

What was said: Because we have taken vocational training into the classroom, there will be less requirement for vocational training in the workplace
What was done: 'We will amend the funding structure so that only the worst will be able to afford to provide training for the lowest funded qualifications and many will suddenly be providing Engineering VQs'.
Verdict: What price quality?

What was said: There has been far too much effort spent on keeping people on training programmes so that funds can be drawn down against them.
What was done: 'We have introduced a framework where early completion is penalised financially. This reflects our anticipations of the training companies, not the ability of the learner'.
Verdict: Holding back the bright and able can make more money for training companies.

What was said: The Training and Enterprise Councils have had their day. Do not expect to see the same faces populating the LSCs as were previously seen in the TECs.
What was done: 410 former Training and Enterprise Council employees to chase some of the 130 positions at Liverpool LSC.
Verdict: Well, not as many of them, anyway.

What was said: Britain will become the e-commerce capital of Europe by 2005.
What was done: 'Look, even the people who can’t read and write properly have computers'.
Verdict: Skewed logic.

What was said: LSCs will provide a more transparent mechanism for training provision, a more even playing field.
What was done: 'Sorry, we only have one PC that we can input contractor data through, so we can’t deal with former sub-contractors’ LSC bids to provide training'.
Verdict: Competition Law backlash looming.

What was said: The Human Rights Act will give people more freedom than they ever had.
What was done: 'Sorry, you can’t train with that company any more unless you pay them, because they don’t have a contract'.
Verdict: Everyone is equal – nearly.

What was said: We need to raise the levels in our schools
What was done: 'We have a plan to attract teachers from other countries'.
Verdict: Jury is out.

This is beginning to present a picture of a knee-jerk festival. One of the reasons we are experiencing problems seems to be because many adults, young and old, have very low levels of understanding. Television has been blamed, as have computer games. There are households in the UK which have embraced the model of the Middle Ages in that there are no books, other than, in place of a bible, a telephone directory.

I recently asked a group of mixed ability students to calculate the number of square feet in a square yard. On seeing nonplussed expressions I amended that to metric, but the nonplusses failed to abate, becoming even more non than plussed. The calculator has not taken the place of the maths module in the brain, since they failed to understand the process required, let alone the measurements involved. The entire skill-set was missing. They had no reasoning tools. Mixed ability? Yes, GCSE passes all, a sprinkling of A level students and a graduate.

At this rate the Chancellor will be able to put what he likes into the budget, because no one will have a clue what it means. Orwell’s increase in the chocolate ration to less than it used to be (1984) is beginning to have disturbing echoes. ‘Check your change before leaving’ is starting to mean ‘make sure that you have some’, because for many the concept of £10 minus £4.83 is too awful a problem to work out without a calculator, and to use one you would have to unplug your mobile telephone from your ear, so ‘If I have change, that’s a bonus’ is coming to a place near you, soon.

Where, you may ask, has all the education money gone if not on teaching skills? Well, according to the teachers, there is paper, some more paper, a bit more paper and an inspector to inspect the paper, who produces paper to show whether the process of completing the paper was followed correctly. This is known as a quality system. There is paper in the classrooms, of course, perhaps one book between as few as two students, but no teacher, because he or she is off with a stress-related illness triggered by the prospect of all of that paper being inspected by a person who has never taught, then having to face an enquiry to explain that, instead of filling in the forms about a lesson plan, they were actually developing a lesson plan.

I’m not breaking any new ground when I say that many of our schools, and therefore the majority of the students in them, are screwed. It’s very difficult to rebuild a stripped clock unless you happen to be an horologist, but children have a fascination for taking things apart to find out how they work. Afterwards, of course, they don’t. Is it now the turn of vocational training to be the experiment? Only time will tell.

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