Bridging the divide between academic and vocational education

By linking the education system more closely to the world of work, we’re aiming to ensure all young people have the chance to fulfil their potential.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP


Thank you to Jim and Change Board, I’m glad to have the opportunity to speak to you today.

We’re living in a time of change. Our economy is recovering and youth unemployment is falling. The UK is set to grow faster than any advanced economy this year, and there are more jobs in every part of the nation.

This huge growth in jobs is an equally huge opportunity – to make sure that every young person across the country can secure those jobs and fulfil their potential.

We won’t rest until all our young people have the opportunity not just to get by, but to get on.

Bringing together the worlds of work and education

So my priority is to tackle two challenges: to bridge the divide between academic and vocational education and to bring the worlds of education and work closer together.

We must do everything we can to create a better skills system that gives everyone the chance to achieve – led by employers, linked to jobs, to develop the skills and knowledge that young people need to succeed and that employers need to open up the talent pools of the future.

That’s why we’ve insisted all pupils should have access to a demanding, knowledge-based curriculum up until the age of 16 – because that’s the best possible preparation for both vocational and academic study.

It’s why we’ve driven up standards in vocational education, filtering out low value courses and introducing a new, rigorous vocational offer from 14 right through to 19.

It’s why we’re introducing new Technical Awards – developed in partnership with employers – which are equivalent to a GCSE and will offer 14 – to- 16-year-olds the opportunity to learn real-life practical skills.

And new, rigorous Tech Levels, to be studied alongside or instead of A levels between 16 and 19 – all of them endorsed by employers, trade or professional bodies.

It’s why we’ve reformed apprenticeships – getting rid of short duration, programme-led apprenticeships which weren’t proper jobs, and bringing in new standards designed and delivered by top employers.

All of this is designed to make sure that this country’s vocational education – and, for that matter, this country’s academic education - is truly world class.

Careers guidance and inspiration

We’re raising expectations for what the system can achieve. And I’m determined to raise expectations for what all young people can achieve.

I want every young person leaving school or college to be able to choose between university or an apprenticeship. To be confident that each option will give them a great start in a rewarding career – and to be inspired by the exciting job opportunities it opens up for them.

That’s why we’re getting employers much more closely involved in designing, delivering and endorsing the qualifications young people take at school or college.

And it’s also why we want to give employers a much greater role in inspiring and motivating young people about the world of work.

For too long, careers advice in this country has been too weak – characterised by a top-down approach that couldn’t keep up with the modern labour market, and couldn’t prepare young people properly to take their place in it.

But we know that getting more business leaders and employers involved with schools and colleges has a positive effect on young people’s feelings about the world of work.

When young people choose a career, they don’t just do a dry totting up of the pros and cons. They want to be excited, inspired, motivated. And the best motivation and advice comes from people in those jobs, using those skills, passionate and knowledgeable about what they do and why they do it.

Early impact

The evidence is increasingly available. What matters is the inspiration.

So we have now strengthened statutory guidance, effective from September, to give schools a clear framework to engage the best possible careers guidance. Updated guidance for colleges will be published shortly, along the same lines.

This guidance makes it clear that schools need to focus on preparing students for work and encouraging high ambitions for every student.

Ofsted has given careers guidance a higher priority in school inspections. And importantly, we will now record the destination where students end up after school; whether in an apprenticeship, university, a job or further study - to hold schools and colleges to account for the outcomes their young people achieve.

These are important changes. They give schools and colleges much more power to deliver the best possible careers guidance for the young people in their care. And they encourage them to work more closely with employers in their local area.

Involving others

Evidence shows just 4 contacts with employers reduces the chances of a young person being unemployed by half.

Work experience works. Not fake work experience but real experience of real work. Do you offer work experience. If not you should.

For this is not just about schools and colleges.

We need employers to invest in the workforce of tomorrow.

That is why we are reshaping the National Careers Service: expanding its offer to schools and colleges, making it easier for employers and educators to engage.

We need inspiring organisations to step forward to try new ideas and innovative approaches. That is why I applaud examples like the Career Academies model – which prepares students for work through an exciting programme linking them to employers through masterclasses, mentoring, workplace visits and internships.

It is clear that more and more employers are supporting this culture change and I have seen many inspiring examples for myself. In the Black Country where employers and schools are collaborating to promote local job opportunities, I saw exciting initiatives like Manufacture your Future, a pioneering UK project that provides inspiring careers guidance to change perceptions of careers in engineering and manufacturing – young people are invited to manufacture their own Quad Copter, completing a series of missions against the clock to help them experience the daily challenges of a manufacturing engineer.


Plotr is an excellent example of employers coming together, to create an innovative website allowing young people to really understand what employers offer – in their own words – and to match their skills and ambitions with a range of jobs. Jim Carrick Birtwell and his Board have worked hard to get employer support from firms like Waitrose, Deloitte, Centrica and McDonald’s for this website – and we’re delighted to support them in government.

And they’re making it even bigger and better – using the latest gaming and profiling technology to enable an even better fit between jobs and young people’s experience and skills.

Call for more employers to get involved

This culture change is all about inspiring the next generation by connecting them with the world of work. It has started with employers interacting with young people in the classroom and giving them an insight into the workplace. But it certainly shouldn’t end there and I would like to see more coaching and mentoring, more work tasters and work experience.

I’m here today to encourage you to join in. Perhaps you could work with a local school – sending members of your team in to talk about their jobs, or welcome young people into your workplace? Perhaps you could offer work experience, mentoring or get involved with schemes like Movement to Work who I know are represented here today.

I’d like to see more employers take up the opportunity that Plotr presents – promoting their companies, their industries, directly to young people themselves.

I’d encourage more employers to follow the lead of the BBC, Siemens and Virgin Media in expanding the Apprenticeship programme, supporting our new Traineeships programme, offering work experience to support young people to progress to apprenticeships and other jobs.


By linking the education system much more closely to the world of work: with more respected, relevant qualifications, more employer influence over courses and inspiring advice and guidance we are ensuring that all young people get the best possible start in life, no matter what path they choose.

Clear pathways. Straightforward choices between high quality, valuable courses. Choices that are informed by inspiring contacts with employers and insights into the workplace.

That is our goal. It is economically necessary but not just that it is a moral mission for social justice. We will not rest until every young person has the chance to fulfil their potential.

Published 9 July 2014