A federation of training providers has welcomed a pledge by Minister for Education and the Welsh Language Jeremy Miles to ensure equality between vocational and academic routes of learning in Wales.
The pledge was made following the publication of an eagerly awaited independent report into a review of vocational qualifications in Wales, commissioned by the Welsh Government.
The report’s findings and minister’s pledge have delighted the National Training Federation for Wales (NTFW), whose members deliver apprenticeships and other work-based learning programmes across Wales. They have long been campaigning for parity of esteem for vocational learning.
“I am committed to ensuring there is equality between vocational and academic routes of learning in Welsh education,” said Mr Miles. “Improving the delivery and range of made-for-Wales vocational qualifications will be vital in ensuring we meet the future needs of the Welsh economy, while providing our students with opportunities to gain the skills and qualifications they need.”
The report, which makes 33 recommendations, will help determine the next steps in the potential expansion of made-for-Wales vocational qualifications to meet the future needs of learners and the economy in Wales.
The equality support for vocational qualifications comes at an important time in the transition to the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research (CTER), new body overseeing all post-16 education and training in Wales which is due to take control next April.
The review report acknowledges what is already good within vocational qualifications and the way they are delivered but recommends change where it is needed.
It recognises the importance of strong support from employers in both developing and delivering vocational qualifications. It also recommends increasing the number of vocational qualifications available through the medium of Welsh or bilingually.
The NTFW’s strategic director Lisa Mytton, who contributed to the review, said: “Vocational qualifications are the beating heart of apprenticeships which help us to develop a dynamic and flexible workforce, but there is always opportunity to do more, to be more aspirational.
“The qualifications landscape in Wales is changing, paving the way for new opportunities and vocational qualifications and apprenticeships should be held in high esteem.
“The NTFW is delighted that the Minister for Education and the Welsh Language recognises within the report the need for parity of esteem and to have a concerted, consistent and loud message promoting vocational education as being central to career choice, employer development and the economic growth of Wales, equally valued by all.”
Over the years, there had been significant changes to the delivery, quality and achievement of apprenticeships, she explained. Vocational qualifications help fill the skills gap and add value to the economy.
“The offer of apprenticeship routes is extensive and the qualifications themselves include social values, helping those learners to not only become skilled individuals but to understand the wider context of communities, wellbeing and the environment,” added Lisa.
“Vocational qualifications support learners to be ambitious, aspirational, independent, resilient and motivated individuals, able to respond to the changing nature of work and society throughout their lives which will meet the needs of, and grow, the Welsh and global economies.”
Sharron Lusher, MBE, review steering group chair, said “I have seen the difference that vocational education and training has made to the lives of so many people.
“I hope this review acts as a catalyst to raise the prominence of vocational qualifications in Wales and encourages everyone to consider vocational education when making decisions about their futures.”
The role of independent training providers under CTER and the need to address the issue of UK awarding organisations withdrawing qualifications important to Wales were raised by Lisa and NTFW board members when they met Economy Minister Vaughan Gething.
The discussion also covered Welsh Government budget pressures and maximising the apprenticeship contract to grow the economy.
Commissioned contract holders also recently met Jo Salway, the Welsh Government’s director of social partnership, employability and fair work and her colleagues to help shape the strategic direction of apprenticeships within CTER.