Vocational skills give young people the edge

Guest blog from Jan Hodges OBE, Chief Executive of the Edge Foundation

IMG_0744.JPGIn January 2015, Ayrshire College was awarded £100,000 from the Edge Foundation’s Innovation Fund to support the creation of a Skills Centre of Excellence, located within Irvine Royal Academy, a secondary school in North Ayrshire. This ground-breaking facility is responding to the Scottish Government’s Developing the Young Workforce strategy and is a shining example of how schools, colleges and businesses can work together.

The ethos behind this unique partnership is a determination to prepare young people for work by providing more vocational options in the senior phase of secondary school (fourth year and above).  Courses will be influenced by the needs of the local economy, and better links with the business community will ensure that young people make informed decisions about future study and careers.

Jan Hodges OBE is the chief executive of the Edge Foundation. In this guest blog post, she describes how vocational education can give young people the edge.

The need to support skills

Supporting innovation in education is a huge part of our mission here at the Edge Foundation. Over the years we have worked, often in partnership with those who share our vision, to create projects that offer a practical demonstration of the many benefits of high quality technical, practical and vocational learning.

Picture1Many of these have resulted in the creation of new types of institution and new approaches to blending academic and vocational learning in the curriculum and the Skills Centre of Excellence at Irvine Royal Academy is a great example of this.

We are passionate about the fact that all young people should be able to experience this mix of academic and vocational learning and that, from a young age, they are aware that there are many paths to success. The Centre sets the bar high when it comes to colleges and schools working together to ensure that this happens.

Offering school pupils direct access to a range of vocational courses previously only available at FE colleges is a huge step forward in building the bridge between school and employment. By opening their eyes to the courses, further education options and careers available to them, the Centre will equip these young people with the knowledge and opportunity for them to make informed decisions about their futures; decisions that are based on their individual ambitions and talents.

Not only do we support and encourage the practical demonstration of the benefits of technical, practical and vocational learning but we also celebrate those who choose these pathways. In 2008 we set up VQ Day. This national celebration of vocational excellence has gone from strength to strength and now, in its eighth year, we’re looking for it to be even bigger. We want schools, colleges, learning providers and employers up and down the UK to get involved and celebrate the achievements of their vocational learners.

At the heart of the VQ Day celebrations are the VQ Awards. Nominations are now open and in Scotland we have two awards: VQ Learner of the Year and VQ Employer of the Year. These awards recognise the success of students who take vocational qualifications and the employers who support and promote them in the workplace.

The deadline for entries to both awards is 1 May. You can download everything you need to celebrate VQ Day from the website.

The traditional route through education is losing some of its shine as an increasing number of graduates are struggling to find roles that require their degrees. Now more than ever it is important that the awareness is raised of the many other alternative routes available.

Contrary to many outdated opinions, studying vocationally can open doors to opportunities that would otherwise be unknown. Many vocational courses and foundation apprenticeships with work based elements, such as those on offer at the Skills Centre, encourage the development of the skills and attitude that make the leap from education to employment more of a smooth step.

Working closely with employers can also nurture in students an entrepreneurial streak and a passion for developing their own ideas for businesses. This is a route we are also keen to support at Edge, which is why we launched the Edge Challenge.

Now in its third year, the Edge Challenge is an exciting competition to find the next generation of young entrepreneurs. It is run by the Edge Foundation in partnership with the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy and the Gazelle Colleges Group.

The competition is open to 16-25 year old students (past and current) of any FE or Sixth Form college, who have taken (or are undertaking) a course of technical, practical or vocational education and have a bright and original business idea. For more information, and to be in with a chance of winning up to £4000, head to the website.

Whichever path is taken, we want to ensure that all young people leave the system with the confidence, ambition and the skills to succeed, whatever their different abilities and interests. The Skills Centre of Excellence will go a long way to doing this and will be a beacon for technical, practical and vocational learning in Scotland.

We are delighted to be able to support Ayrshire College as they embark on this venture.


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