As a secondary teacher or school leader, you are aware that the discussion around whether school-level courses should be more vocational still endures.

And with university fees higher than ever, it’s an argument that seems more pertinent now than for previous generations.

V Certs are the most recent vocational qualification open to students who are 14 – 16 years old but could they really provide a solution for the skills gap in the UK?

Various reports, from the CBI’s ‘First Steps: A new approach for our schools’ to the McKinsey Institute’s recent report ‘Education to employment’, highlight that young people’s skills and the expectations of employers do not match.

What are V Certs and what subjects are available?

V Certs are the hands-on, technical alternative to GCSEs.

Created for pupils aged 14 – 16 who learn better through practical experience, these qualifications offer the same level of challenge as GCSEs, with solid progression routes and career pathways all mapped out beyond school.

Currently, V Cert subjects include:

  • Art and Design
  • Business and enterprise
  • Child development and early years
  • Sports studies
  • Craft
  • Engineering studies
  • Food and cookery
  • Digital technology
  • Graphic design
  • Health and fitness
  • Health and social care
  • Interactive media
  • Music technology
  • Performance skills

According to the most recent youth unemployment statistics, there are almost 480,000 16- to 24-year-olds who are currently unemployed in the UK.

Some argue that this landscape is a product of a school system too heavily focused on academia, rather than real-world business skills, and that vocational subjects could be a partial answer to resolving the skills gap in numerous industries.

The Open University Business Barometer found 90% of employers struggled to recruit workers with the required skills in the last 12 months. Furthermore, 800,000 16- to 24-year-olds are not in education, employment or training, according to May 2017 Office for National Statistics data. Brexit has added further pressure, with the ONS figures showing that net migration to Britain fell by 49,000 in the year to September 2016.

Can V Certs bridge the skills gaps?

The answer to this question may depend on the exact employer in question. Recent research has found that employers that appreciate vocational-based qualifications are more likely to be those that specifically recruit or train people in such skills:

There are significant differences between employers who say they typically recruit people with, or train them in, Functional Skills, Vocational and Technical qualifications and those who do not. Generally, the former group have more positive perceptions of the qualifications than the latter, including of the business benefits that stem from achieving the qualification.

Core skills, such as those developed by English and maths, alongside a good work attitude, will always benefit both pupil and employer.

While the opinion on vocational qualifications differ from business to business, study after study highlights genuine employer concern about current or future skills shortages.

Given that V Certs are practical, narrowly-focused courses designed to make students world-ready, they arguably provide more skills that are readily transferable to job positions.

However, whether or not they truly do make a difference out on ‘the shop floor’ will only be known some years into their existence.