While the vocational elite ‘defy the downturn’, practical qualifications are being downgraded

New research on the widening pay gap between graduates and non-graduates stands in stark contrast to the latest figures for the ‘vocational elite’, which indicate that even in the current economic climate knowing the tricks of a trade can pay off.

Earlier this month, the Guardian reported research by the Resolution Foundation, which found that

the ‘earnings gap between graduates and their peers without a degree widens as they get older…’

In contrast to these findings, The City & Guilds Vocational Rich List, which ranks wealth among those who have built their fortunes following an Apprenticeship or other practical qualification, showed that some non-graduates are in fact ‘defying the downturn’.

Britain’s self-made, vocational elite are worth a collective £17.6 billion – a billion pound increase since 2008.

Alison Wolf, who was commissioned by the The Secretary of State for Education to carry out an independent review of vocational education, said that:

Good vocational programmes are … respected, valuable and an important part of our, and any other country’s, educational provision.’

Nonetheless, attitudes remain mixed, a situation that is unlikely to be improved by the government’s plans to exclude vocational qualifications from school leagues tables. The Guardian posed the question Do we value vocational skills? to 4 people from different sectors:

  • Charlie Mullins, MD of Pimlico Plumbers, welcomed  Wolf’s acknowledgement that ‘useful’ jobs like plumbing ‘have been downgraded in social status over the years’. He felt that

‘One step forward might be to stop using terms like vocational. We should be talking about “getting a trade”.’

  • Conversely, assistant head-teacher Naimish Gohil was more critical saying that while they ‘serve a need… let’s not pretend they are the same as academic qualifications.’
  • Principal Gill Worgan constructively suggested that

‘What is missing is an alternative, a technical baccalaureate, which offers valuable learning and real skills, and leads to real jobs.’

  • Year 10 student, Ewan Wright, said that although he found vocational courses ‘more attractive’ now that larger companies were starting to offer them,

‘I think I’d only really consider that route if I didn’t get the grades I needed for university.’

On The Student Room, students discussing whether The current education system in the UK should be scrapped? suggested introducing vocational courses earlier on, and incorporating aspects of the Dutch model, where ‘they have 3 different types of school, two academic and one vocational.’

Another thread by a secondary school student looking to a do a BTEC extended diploma in IT business applications but not go to university asked Do you need a degree? to enter the IT profession. Although most respondents indicated it was not necessarily a pre-requisite if you can demonstrate the necessary qualifications and experience, the fact that those offering advice had degrees and one also had Masters, makes this reply all the more resonant with some of the attitudes above,

you don’t need a degree to get into the IT industry, but it helps.’