One of the more popular ways back into education or work is through the use of the vocational qualifications that are on offer.  At present, there are quite a staggering number on offer, so you’re never short of different options, depending on your experiences, tastes and other previous qualifications.

Axing budgets

The actual number is quite staggering – according to an estimate by the Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock there are some 15,400 regulated qualifications in this area… Dear me, I probably couldn’t even name 1% of them.  It’s such a broad range of qualifications that surely anyone can get into something.

Of course, this is somewhat reliant on funding and where the government places its priorities.  All of that took a little shake-up this week when the government identified 5,000 courses that they considered ‘low value’ and have cut the funding from them.


The budget for these courses is managed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and as a result of such a decision, £200m will be redirected to courses that represent the ‘most relevant qualifications’ to the department.

The move has been met with certain amounts of caution around the sector, with the National Institute for Adult Continuing Learning saying that it be a “way back into learning.”  Their Chief Executive David Hughes has said that “there is a definite need for vocational qualifications to be better recognised and valued by employers.”  He added that “If this achieves that then it will be a helpful move.”  On the flip-side, he warned that creating a cut-off point could mean that people miss out.

Several bodies have been more supporting of the move, with the UK Commission of Education and Skills saying that it gave both learners and employers confidence in the quality of the vocational courses presented.

Adult learning is something that keeps on coming up – it certainly made a return in the times of recession that Britain experienced.  Why though?Many people found themselves being made redundant or otherwise losing their work and so the need to get back into work was definitely up on people’s list of priorities.

Many adults turned to different qualifications to try and find a way back into work – vocational qualifications of different levels were the way through the problems.  After all, they were another little way of showing off different skills and that would make people a more attractive option, right?

Apparently not.  It appears that, with such a vast array of qualifications on offer, their appeal is somewhat diminished because of the somewhat ‘less valuable’ ones on offer.  Employers look at the vocational list and say ‘well, if you can do X, Y and Z, what’s to say that your vocational qualification in A is going to be any better?’

This comes down to perception a bit, since someone has gone through the effort of training to a certain standard.  However, pointing any kind of blame on this isn’t really fair, since you could argue the other way and say there are some courses out there that aren’t worth a lot in the job market.  This is something that the cuts are aiming to sort out.

Some of the courses that are being targeted revolve around ones like self-tanning and balloon artistry.  Such courses are perhaps useful in their particular area of specialism but their value to the overall economy is being questioned.  Is that a fair assumption to make?  Well, the answer is not very clear.  There are always two sides to this – should we concentrate on the courses that have the ‘most’ perceived value?


Clearly the main argument in support of concentrating the finances is to improve the perceived value of the qualification and to make sure that it remains a force in the working environment.

The argument is that courses that seem obscure or aren’t part of the bigger picture are too specialist and that we should probably move towards the more commonly-needed ones, such as those around core skills and those where are a bigger demand.  Such ones could include around mathematics, customer service, technical skills like construction etc.  Would these be more value to us as a nation, with a somewhat stagnant economy and equally faltering job market?


Vocational qualifications, particularly in adults, can be quite useful to help reinforce practical skills.  Every job or profession has a certain degree of ‘best practice’, so to speak.  Perhaps then that every job should have some sort of vocational qualification to make sure that people have the practical skills to succeed in that environment.

For example, it’s all OK to say to a graduate ‘here’s your new career’ but having some practical understanding of what to do in a certain situation is far better than just the theory.  You don’t, for instance, become a police officer without spending some time on the street, getting that experience.

Ultimately, when you sit down and think about it, it is a very tough one to weigh up.  A vocational qualification in self-tanning does seem a little ridiculous at first, but you have to remember that it is worth something to an industry that contributes to our economy.  That’s worth something to us.

To cut all of the funding away from certain courses does seem a little unfair, given that they have a value in their sector.If a sector continues to support the economy, why not have it on board?  We wouldn’t stop funding schools because their students left and didn’t go into a corporate job, would we?




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