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Vocational qualifications favoured

More than half of British employers say vocational qualifications are better than academic ones at preparing young people for work, a survey has found.

Research shows that 72% of employers saw vocational courses like apprenticeships and NVQs as "essential" for young people, while 53% favoured them over academic learning.

Only 27% agreed with the statement that VQs "are not as valuable as academic qualifications at preparing people for the workforce".

The survey of 1005 small, medium and large employers was commissioned by the Edge Foundation, a vocational learning charity, and City & Guilds, which runs vocational courses.

It found that 83% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that "young people need to be made more aware of the options available to them", and 84% felt they should be given "more exposure to the world of work when they are still at school".

Respondents overwhelmingly said there should be more and better vocational alternatives to A-levels. L ess than a third agreed VQs are only for pupils that do not succeed academically.

Chris Jones, director general of City & Guilds, said: "The current system is failing young people and not preparing them for the world of work.

"Employers are crying out for young people who have the right skills to add value to their business. Vocational qualifications can provide these skills - but how many people know about them?"

Mr Jones said society had placed "too much emphasis on academia" and that careers advice in schools was "often purely focused on university".

Research last month by City & Guilds found a third of employers are considering hiring staff from abroad because there are so few skilled workers in Britain.

And a report last week by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills claimed 20% of jobs in key industries like aerospace and fossil fuels employers were going to migrant workers.

Edge Foundation CEO Jan Hodges said: "We have skills gaps emerging in many sectors within the UK and it is crucial that young people are given the right training and encouragement to be able to fill these gaps."

The Department of Education (DfE) has introduced Tech Levels as a vocational alternative to A-levels.

A spokesman said: "They will give students the skills and knowledge needed to enter an occupation or profession by providing them with a high-quality alternative to A-level study.

"Tech Levels will form one of the key strands of the Technical Baccalaureate - the performance table measure that will be the gold standard for anyone looking for a technically skilled job or apprenticeship."

Hundreds of qualifications have been submitted for approval as Tech Levels. All qualifications approved as Tech Levels will have the backing of a professional association or by five separate employers.

However the DfE spokesperson stressed: "Employers are also clear that they want a rigorous focus on academic subjects like English, maths and science for all pupils."

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