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Focus on in-demand skills should result in top marks

28th January 2013 Posted by

The news that schools are abandoning vocational training courses that do not contribute to their GCSE performance ranking has been greeted with dismay by commentators. The move follows the decision by the Department for Education to reduce from 3,100 to 70 (125 in 2014) the number of vocational qualifications that would count as equivalent to mainstream core subjects, in the belief that the courses contributed little to the future educational and work prospects of school leavers.

Setting aside who decides which courses are valuable and which are not, there is a case to be made for a more managed approach to identifying and supplying the skills and training needs of the UK economy. The waste and resource management sector exemplifies the current imbalance between supply and demand. If we are to maximise waste diversion out of landfill and into productive use, SITA UK estimates that 50-80 million tonnes of additional treatment capacity will be required by 2020, serviced by 19,000 to 36,000 additional staff* with a technical, process-related background, and with expertise in procurement, sales and commodity trading.

The new skills needed by our sector are a microcosm of the wider needs of an economy built on green technologies and green growth. In August 2012, the Daily Mail published a depressing set of statistics. In round numbers, higher education courses in hair and beauty, media studies and the hospitality and leisure industries attracted 275,000 students against an estimated 127,000 job vacancies, whereas 211,000 students enrolled for courses in building engineering, construction and the environmental industries against an estimated 435,140 job vacancies.

While industry can do its bit by providing apprenticeships and other skills support in order to meet demand, the role of government is to manage supply by giving future wage earners the qualifications to match. If the 125 vocational courses that are proposed to be retained achieve this objective, the Government is to be supported. Quality, not quantity is the watchword.

* Driving green growth: The role of the waste management industry and the circular economy

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