I have had the greatest pleasure to have been able to visit India on a number of occasions in recent times.
My current visit has allowed me to take in Nagpur and the opportunity to meet and speak with EQ4C. It was pleasing and refreshing change, and I mean that with all sincerity and the greatest respect.
My findings during my visits have been that academic achievement and excellence is the number one priority of educational institutes. Now I'm sure you will say "that's the whole point of educational institutes", and to a certain extent yes, I will agree with you. However it appears to be at the expense of any structured co-curricular activities which help to develop 'soft skills', or how academic achievement applies to the practical context of the workplace. After all, we all want to have a good education so we can get ourselves a decent job, but how do you then apply that knowledge in the workplace if you've had no practical training?
Let me give you an example. You gain a good degree in management, excellent, but what does that prove? Well, it proves that you have the knowledge to work in a managerial capacity, but a manager's role usually involves managing other people. So did your degree show you in a practical context how to manage other people, or just provide you with the knowledge of how to manage other people? Having the knowledge to do a task, and actually being able to do it are completely different.
The UK education system is fairly well respected throughout the world. For a long time we have understood the value of vocational training and education and that it has a significant impact in the workplace. We have a system called National Vocational Qualifications or NVQs, and these are available at different levels across every single sector of industry. The standards are designed by industry experts and training establishments as they are the ones best placed to do so.
The essence of an NVQ is that they are broken down into different units and that each of these units has a number of tasks that you need to a) have the knowledge of why the task needs doing and, b) be able to put that knowledge into practice in the workplace. Assessment is then undertaken in the workplace to show that you can actually do the task and be classed as 'competent'.
So what are the benefits for students undertaking vocational qualifications as opposed to degrees? Well, try and look at this from an employer's perspective. Who are they likely to engage, someone who has the knowledge to do a task, or someone who can actually show that they can do the task? Obviously it depends upon the job itself, but if you could show that you are able to do a job rather than just have the knowledge, then potentially there is more chance of you being engaged.
So how does this apply to students? Should they choose a vocational training program rather than a degree program? Absolutely not! Where I am coming from is that you should do both. If you have the academic ability to go to university and gain a degree then you must go for that. However what you should be considering is that at the same time you should perhaps be taking a vocational training program which will actually compliment and link in to your degree studies.
That's why my meetings and discussions with EQ4C were a delightful, refreshing change as it was clearly apparent that they fully understood the value of vocational training programs and the 'Learning Cycle' (training needs analysis to identity skills gaps – training to address the needs – assessment in the workplace – review), and the benefits they can bring to students.
I very much look forward to working with EQ4C and supporting their endeavours and would welcome any comments people may have.