Time for a ‘culture change’ around higher technical education, say employers

5 November 2019 Agnes Donnelly

Technical skills are highly valued by employers, and talented technicians can have many routes to success. But the UK needs to raise awareness among future recruits of how rewarding such careers can be, and give employers more options when it comes to high-quality training for current technical staff.

In spring 2019, the Gatsby Foundation and Dougal Driver (CEO, Grown in Britain) brought together thirty employers and representative bodies from the land, construction and water industries to discuss the future of higher technical education. They expressed a strong need for people able to work as highly-skilled technicians, with new technologies (such as remote sensing, robotics and artificial intelligence) and the need for more sustainable practices increasing the demand on existing staff to upskill.

Employers were also very concerned that insufficient interest from young people threatens to leave unfillable gaps in an often-ageing technician workforce.

Changes are needed in culture and practice across government, education providers, employers, professional organisations and wider society. Key points from the summits included:

  • Better information available for HR & Learning and Development staff about technical education, but particularly about higher technical qualifications and higher apprenticeships. Sometimes a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is necessary for a technical job, but often it is not, yet those involved in recruitment and training know too little about alternatives in higher technical education.

  • More collaborative efforts to help schools and colleges represent the variety of technical jobs and careers available to young people, and to show the importance of technical skills in the workforce, the prestige of highly skilled technical staff, and the varied career paths available to them.

  • Professional bodies to consider how they recognise the skills and achievements of higher-level technicians – at the moment there is often a large gap between entry-level roles and chartered members.

Dougal Driver, CEO at Grown in Britain, said: "I know from personal experience, and many years working across the forestry sector and beyond, that having a technical background is no barrier to a varied and successful career. But having a degree is still considered by too many to be the pinnacle of achievement. Employers, schools, colleges and universities need to unite in ensuring that being a technician is seen as a badge of honour."

Ginny Page, Director of HE Programmes at Gatsby, said: "Higher technical education is rising up the political agenda, and rightly so. But to get it right we need employers at the heart of reforms, particularly in ensuring that higher-level qualifications and apprenticeships include the knowledge, skills and behaviours that they value. It will be their response in terms of recruitment and investment in training which will determine the ultimate success of reforms to higher technical education."

A report from the meetings is available to download here.

To see a list of Gatsby's reports looking at higher technical education, please click here.