The vocational education and training we provide in this country doesn’t take place in a social or educational vacuum. Many of the people working in the licensed retail sector and the wider hospitality industry have had negative experiences of education. Many lack basic educational skills despite having undergone a minimum of 11 years’ full-time schooling. A frequent refrain of employers is that they must make good the educational deficits of their staff. It is a sad indictment of our educational system that over 70 years after the passing of R.A. Butler’s Education Act, getting the adult population in general educated to Level 2 should still be regarded as an aspiration.
At the heart of this is confusion about what education and training are for. The potential for education to transform society is over-estimated; conversely, its capacity to inspire children and young people to engage with intellectually challenging issues, while preparing them for the world of work is underestimated. The obsession with learning styles and the relegation of knowledge reflects a crisis in adult authority and a sense of doubt about whether teachers can and should pass on a body of intellectual knowledge to their students. Rather, we have seen the expansion of education and training as a social engineering project. It has become an eye-rolling dictum that if you want to get a politician from any party behind any kind of educational reform, just mention “social mobility”.
We have failed for decades to get the balance right between mainstream academic education and technical education. We’ve seen poor performance from university technical colleges (UTCs) and studio schools, many of which are struggling, largely because they are obliged by government policy to take all-comers in the name of social mobility, rather than being able to select the technically gifted. In practice this means they are used as dumping grounds for badly behaved pupils with low attainment from surrounding schools. If you want to understand why technical courses and apprenticeships are seen by many parents as a second-best for their children as compared with an academic university course, look no further.
Selection by aptitude would increase the success of T-levels and apprenticeships and by encouraging pupils to compete for places on these courses, help to create parity of esteem with academic education. For a lot of young people mainstream schooling is something they just don’t see the point of and they are yearning for something that unlocks their technical potential and gives them work skills.
So, young people are expected to choose between going to university or doing a T-level or an apprenticeship. The quality of apprenticeships varies widely, and the new ‘apprenticeship standards’ are often written in a language that is so generalised that it is hard to discern what the learning outcomes actually are. And the replacement of qualifications – which employers, students and parents all understood – with the achievement of a ‘standard’ often expressed in rarefied generalities, contributes to the perception that apprenticeships are for people who aren’t bright enough to go to university. Which is a pity, because a lot of young people who choose the university route aren’t bright enough to go to university either.
And then we have the complete mess that the government has got us into over the apprenticeship levy and ‘T-levels’. For months now, the rolling year-on-year sign-up rate for the apprenticeships that will deliver the new standards is 40% down, and the government’s ambition to deliver “three million high-quality apprenticeships starts by 2020” is being exposed for the fantasy it is. And even the government’s own civil servants are telling them that T-levels are not ready to launch, but government seems determined to plough ahead in any event.
For the licensed retail sector, and the wider hospitality industry in which it sits, there are some excellent apprenticeships out there, although there is a huge job still to be done to educate employers and young people regarding what apprenticeships have to offer. We need to put a compelling offer together to potential apprentices about how and why entering our industry can offer them a bright future. This is why the CPL Training Group, HIT Training and industry trade body UKHospitality have come together to try and shape this compelling offer.
We are working with our partners to clear the fog around the core skills that young people working in hospitality need and the various specialisms that offer them different pathways to rewarding careers in hospitality. We’re working to create a UKHospitality Academy that will offer apprenticeships but with the learning experience enriched by training workshops which also deliver recognised qualifications we know employers, young people and parents understand and trust.
This compelling offer will help to galvanise our efforts to persuade government to offer us a ‘sector deal’ – and get behind hospitality in all its aspects as a generator of jobs. As this process of development unfolds you will hear more about it, but if we are to overcome the skills gap and drive up productivity and profitability in the hospitality industry it is essential that we get this right and that we get government to back us.