Employers need to address vocational 'perception gap', roundtable hears

Employers have an important role to play in improving the perception of vocational qualifications to attract young job seekers, according to research conducted by Cranfield School of Management and learndirect.


According to the report, The new vocational currency: investing for success, almost half of employers regard vocational qualifications as equally attractive as academic ones, and a third would consider paying a salary premium for candidates with Level 3 qualifications, rising to 40% for Level 4 qualifications. 

This contrasts with how employees view vocational qualifications. About one third (34%) said academic qualifications were valued more highly by employers, and only 12% said vocational qualifications were seen as more valuable, suggesting a disconnect in how jobseekers and employers view employability.  

Emma Parry, author of the report and reader of resource management at Cranfield School of Management, said there was a “perception gap” in how vocational qualifications are viewed.

“It’s about communication,” she added. “We need to raise awareness [of vocational qualifications] not just in schools, but also among parents and other gatekeepers.” 

The report, to be released on Wednesday 3 July, was discussed at a breakfast roundtable event held by HR magazine and learndirect last Friday. 

Richard Irwin, head of student recruitment at PwC, told how his organisation has changed its perception on talent and qualifications, offering apprenticeships to new starters without degrees.

“It’s about an inclusive approach to talent and getting the best people into the business,” he said. “By focusing too much on academic excellence, you can miss out on strong talent. We are focusing more on inclusivity and taking on more people without degrees.” 

Karen Ancira, head of OD at KFC UKI, which offers a range of vocational training opportunities for staff, said giving credibility to such qualifications was crucial. 

“Government and employers need to give more credibility to vocational qualifications,” she said. “We need to create more awareness of the options available at every stage of a person’s career.”  

The report found a lack of management training is holding back the UK economy. 

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of employers said weaknesses in management skills were having a negative effect on company growth, despite 60% of employers offering no management training.

Gill Craven, director of service development at learndirect, said: “The Government needs to champion leadership and management training. Transferrable skills are crucial. As employers, do we value qualifications or skills?” 

A video of the roundtable will be available on the HR magazine website in July. A full report on the results of the research and the discussion will be published in August’s edition of HR magazine.