Smart Machines & Factories
A readily achievable prize – equality of value
Published:  17 May, 2017

Technical education is critical to ensuring the long-term success of UK manufacturing in the age of Industry 4.0, and it is extremely encouraging to hear the announcement of a further £500m a year for 16-19 technical education made in the Spring Budget, along with a 50% rise in the training provided to a total of 900 hours per year from 2019.

I agree with Matthew Harrison, co-director and Advisory Group Chair’ for the Centre for Engineering Education at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), who says it’s about time technical education got the investment in its foundations to compete with the best Vocational Education and Training (VET) systems around the world.

The Chancellor’s announcement produces 15 new ‘world class routes’ of ‘equal value to A Levels’ that to ‘prepare school and college leavers for the changing job market’.

There have been similar announcements before, dozens of them in fact over several decades, and as Harrison highlights, almost every time the promise has been to ‘achieve parity of esteem’ with A levels and the pathways to higher education. This time is no different with the Chancellor once more promising ‘parity of esteem’. The fact that this is the section of the speech highlighted by broadcast media underlines a commonly held view that this is an unrealistic expectation, at least in the medium term. A-levels remain a gold standard to so many.

But as has been pointed out, there is a more readily achievable prize to be found in the section of the speech where equality of value and not esteem is emphasised.

The engineering profession, as Harrison highlights, has always maintained a VET route into the highest levels of engineering and as a result, has kept a clear line of sight to good wages for those who choose a technical pathway to professional engineering and the career prospects that go with it - that is a technical route with real value. Regardless of where a young person starts, they can access a professional career with no limit on how far they can go.

I absolutely agree with Harrison’s belief that shining a light on that pathway by making it one of the 15 announced by the Chancellor, backed with the additional resources to ensure the training is world-class, is a prize to reach for right now. Parity of esteem can come later.

Aaron Blutstein Editor