· 2 min read · Features

National Apprenticeships Week: vocational qualifications and apprenticeships are 'a great investment'

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The economic downturn and rising costs of further education in the UK has done much to change attitudes towards vocational training in the UK and university is no longer regarded as the only route to a rewarding career.

This resurgence of vocational qualifications should be welcomed and give young people confidence that whichever route they take after school, there are opportunities open to them.

However, whilst the longstanding divide between vocational and academic training is finally narrowing, a new division has been created in its place with some suggesting that only certain forms of vocational training have merit.

My own sector, retail, is amongst those to have received criticism for offering vocational training programmes to its workforce.

And whilst I appreciate that the concept of a Qualification in retail is new to the fore, those who dismiss them out of hand are missing the economic point.

A new report by City & Guilds states that UK businesses would benefit from a £459 million boost per year if a million extra apprenticeship places were created by 2013. Apprenticeships also generate as much as £40 for every £1 invested in them. For the retail sector that figure is £64 million.

Service is now the largest sector in the UK, overtaking manufacturing and engineering as the dominant force in our economy. As such, ensuring the people who work in our largest sector have access to the most current, relevant and valuable training seems like a common sense and economically-minded approach to take.

And lets not forget the impact of training and qualifications on the individuals undertaking them. We cannot afford to ignore the fact that for thousands of young people in our country traditional education simply does not work out. Are we to say that these people should be overlooked before they even start their working life?

Vocational programmes that are relevant to a real job, that train someone to be even better at what they do and train them to think differently about their job encourage confidence, motivation and ambition.

You only have to meet the colleagues who are amongst the first to graduate from our Asda Skills Academy apprenticeship programme this week and hear them talk about their new found desire to progress - and their belief that such progression is within their grasp - to see the benefit of these programmes.

Many will go on to look at other forms of education having gained confidence through an apprenticeship programme. Something they would never have considered possible beforehand.

Like any industry, the retail sector needs to attract talent - our future leaders - in order to grow. We will only be able to do this if we continue to invest in our people and showcase the fantastic potential within our industry for school and college leavers. In return, our apprentices know that in tough times they have an employer who will invest in their future and provide them with opportunities to flourish. Meanwhile the UK can benefit from a highly skilled workforce helping to drive economic growth - a great investment.

Hayley Tatum (pictured) is people Director at Asda