Dorset’s voice of business is backing calls by Britain’s Ofsted boss to bring in vocational training for non-academic teenagers aged 14 to 19.
Sir Michael Wilshaw publicly called for more university technical colleges (UTCs) in order to create the skills revolution needed to make us more competitive after Brexit.
Members of Dorset Chamber of Commerce & Industry have repeatedly flagged up the shortage in skills needed to grow their businesses.
The organisation, which has 800-plus members representing 37,000 employees, is led by chief executive Ian Girling.
He said: “What Sir Michael said on the record chimes very much with what the Chamber is hearing at grass roots level from our members.
“There is simply not enough skills being taught locally to bring on the next generation of tradesmen and women, manufacturers, engineers, mechanics, technologists, construction specialists and scientists.
“If there is a post-Brexit restriction on the free movement of workers from the EU, we may face a shortage of workers, further compounding the problem.
“UTCs are very much about nurturing home-grown talent to create the skilled workforce Dorset needs to create regional prosperity and ensure the growth of local businesses in our towns, industrial parks and countryside.
“There is undoubtedly a swathe of school-age teenagers in Dorset who would prefer, and benefit, from a vocational education rather an academic one where they may well be struggling through no fault of their own.
“We would fully support any plans for a UTC here in Dorset. Furthermore, we will respond to Sir Michael’s clarion call through strategic action – by facilitating and strengthening local links between commerce and schools, colleges and universities.
“Sir Michael has thrown down the gauntlet to politicians to make UTCs a key part of the skills revolution that we so clearly need in order to remain globally competitive. We urge politicians in the region to give Sir Michael’s vision due consideration.”
Recruitment dilemmas and increased competition were among the most pressing issues facing businesses, according to the recent first Dorset Economic Survey.
DCCI fed the results into the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) quarterly economic survey, regarded as the private sector’s leading indicator of the UK economy since 1989, and used them to pinpoint local concerns.
What Sir Michael said about UTCs
Sir Michael’s comments were made during a televised interview on a recent BBC1 Andrew Marr Show.
He said: “We need a skills revolution in this country. I’m a big supporter of what Lord Baker, Ken Baker, is trying to do with the university technology colleges, the 14 to 19 technology colleges.
“Got off to a shaky start but I think the principle is absolutely right. If you look at what has happened in Germany and in Switzerland and in other European countries, they have got it absolutely right and the reason they have got it absolutely right is that there is a political focus on it in a way there hasn’t been over the last half century here and we have got to have that political focus and we have got to bang heads together – employers, colleges and schools.”
Mr Marr asked: “And you have to persuade politicians as well as there is no great drive for this [UTCs] at the moment…are you going to commit yourself to helping drive for a new generation of technical colleges and technical universities?”
Sir Michael replied: “Yes I am. And I am going to join that movement – it is much-needed reform that is needed in our country – there is a big gaping hole in our education system that needs to be filled and Brexit won’t be a success unless we have more home-grown talent coming through.”
Mr Marr questioned: “And if we don’t do this, and we don’t have the migrants coming in from the rest of EU, what happens to us?”
Sir Michael answered: “I tell you what happens. We have just done a survey of 500 major employers in the country – two-thirds of them, two thirds of them, said the skills shortage is getting much, much worse and that is going to carry on unless we give it more time and attention and not focus on the top 10%, focus on the great majority and those who need more skills.”
What is a UTC?
According to the UTCs’ website, the colleges deliver an innovative, high-quality education that combines technical, practical and academic learning.
In doing so, they offer students more than the traditional GCSE and A Level curriculum.
UTCs, which are each backed by employers and a local university, are not academically selective and charge no fees. There are 48 UTCs in England and more than 50 will have opened by 2018.
There is a specialist focus on science, technology, engineering and maths subjects; all their technical, academic and practical learning is designed to be applied in the workplace.
Nearest ones to Dorset are in Salisbury and Portsmouth.
How the Chamber is forging links between the classroom and workplace
The Chamber is leading the initiative to strengthen links between education and business and help young people prepare for the workplace.
In September, businesses and students built bridges at the launch of Dorset’s Young Chamber programme.
More than 150 people – including students, business leaders and education representatives – packed the Gainsford Theatre at Lytchett Minster School for the Chamber event.
St Aldhelm’s Academy in Poole was the first school in Dorset to sign up to Young Chamber earlier this year. More than 80 businesses have expressed an interest in becoming involved so far.