Amelia Hodgson

GCSEs + A-levels + University degree = Graduate job. That’s the formula for a successful career, right? US statistics seem to agree, given that the 2017 employment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 86 percent, against 57 percent for those who did not complete high school.

Is this good only for individuals with degrees, at the expense of those without, or is it good for all of us? If academic qualifications carry a premium over vocational ones does that stigmatise vocational routes?

Is a degree the only or best type of qualification for careers across the board? And why are alternative routes to employment so much less visible? Rather than a lack of skills, is it simply the untrodden path that prevents young people from accessing employment and relevant training? 

We need apprenticeships

Apprenticeships offer vocational routes to employment for young people though without the premium, justified or not, graduates get through academic qualifications. 

The government has promised three million apprenticeships by 2020, but there was a 59 per cent drop in the number in England in MayJuly 2017, over the previous year. Government will be monitoring the effectiveness of its policy as, other than the effect in 2020 of Covid-19 on education and employment, it will be held to account on meeting the target.

Alternative routes can be highlighted early on

Alongside increasing the quantity and quality of opportunities, it’s open to us to promote non-university routes early on without discouraging young people from the prospect of universityvocational options shouldn’t play second fiddle to academic routes. As such, the government’s consideration of an application system equivalent to UCAS is welcome. 

Careers services can start earlier, provide information frequently and  present information about a range of employment options to ensure relevant routes are presented to all young people. This could include talks from those who have taken the vocational route, illustrating real-life success stories. 

Employers should remove unnecessary academic barriers to employment 

Employers also have a responsibility to question whether academic degrees are necessary, or even beneficial, for prospective employees. Training courses and work trials often equip candidates with the skills needed. This is especially vital in difficult-to-fill vacancies. One such example is within the NHS, where vacancies can be matched with applicants referred by agencies like Skills for Health who use their networks to find motivated candidates who are long-term unemployed, then provide intensive short-term training for the role. Filling these vacancies also reduces stress on others. 

If employees want to ensure they have a complete and engaged workforce, they must remove avoidable barriers to employment in recognition of the value of non-academic skills and experience. 


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