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Vocational Professional Qualifications Day

As the education community gears up to celebrate the annual National Vocational Qualifications Day (VQ Day), perhaps it’s time to consider renaming it Vocational Professional Qualifications Day, or VPQ for short.

Vocational qualifications have traditionally been seen as an alternative to higher education, but as education and the working landscape changes, it is becoming increasingly clear that the divide between practical skills and theoretical knowledge it outdated.  And in a growing number of careers for which an academic entry route was the only one, vocational qualifications’ importance is growing.

Vocational qualifications are all about being able to do things, and do them well. Higher level vocational and professional qualifications provide employers with the confidence that staff have the capability to undertake complex tasks accurately and in line with best practice. Whereas, academic qualifications provide a set of intellectual skills that enable learning. The difference is, vocational and professional qualifications translates’ ‘knowing that’ into ‘knowing how’ – and application in the workplace in real time.

The expansion of higher education over the last 30 years or so has meant that many young people who would, at one time, have gone right the way through the part time vocational and professional route have remained in full time education. However, many are finding that they still need a professional qualification, because what full time education struggles to do is provide the experiences and insights that are only available through real work.

But now the revival of apprenticeships and the creation of higher apprenticeships have started to rebalance the choices open to young people, at a time when full time higher education, post 18, has become a much more expensive proposition and its ability to guarantee a well-paid job has diminished. Higher education has responded to the reduction in this guarantee by expanding the opportunities for post-graduate study.  This has certainly enabled some graduates to gain some additional advantage, but this only adds to the costs and debts. By following a vocational and professional pathway, or by transferring into it at an appropriate point, people are being offered a real choice of routes that are equally valid and valued.

And it’s not just young people. As the world of work changes, older employees are equally keen to retrain and upskill. Leadership and management is a good example of this. It’s rare for people to enter management roles before their early thirties, and many don’t do so until they are past forty or even fifty. Yet the opportunities to gain professional qualifications are widely valued. Some will consider an MBA, but most opt for professional qualifications like those offered by ILM – more people take a Level 7 qualification in management or one of its related disciplines from one of the professional bodies than all the MBAs provided by all the UK business schools combined.

So, while the focus of VQ Day will, inevitably, be on the younger learners gaining level 2 and 3 qualifications, let’s not forget that vocational and professional qualifications go all the way up to Level 7 (i.e. post-graduate level) and that learners at all stages of their careers can and should take advantage of the opportunity to learn how to perform their roles better. That’s why we should be talking about VPQ Day.

What do you think?

By David Pardey, Senior Policy & Research Manager