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Number of vocational qualifications hits new high

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Over 3,250,000 vocational qualifications were awarded in the UK last year according to figures released to mark the first Vocational Qualifications Day (VQ Day). The figures, contained in an independent Review of vocational qualifications by education foundation Edge, show a rise of 8.3% on the previous year and a 117% rise on the numbers awarded five ears ago.

The top five vocational subject areas to study in the last year were healthcare, retail, business, construction and engineering, and vocational qualifications are available in a vast range of subjects reflecting the modern economy.


The Review concludes that this growth in numbers taking vocational qualifications has been down to the significant demand from employers for qualifications designed to meet the skills needed in the economy.  And labour market projections point to a rising demand for vocational qualifications in the future. The report predicts that the areas with greatest employment opportunities will be utilities (especially energy), construction, engineering, computing, business services, health and education.  However, it warns that skills are still required in manufacturing sectors to replace those lost by an aging workforce.

The popularity of vocational courses has prompted many schools to offer a broader curriculum. The number of schools awarding vocational qualifications doubled in the last year, although colleges, private training companies and employers remain the largest providers of practical courses.  At the other end of the scale, over half of all NVQ/SVQ awards are achieved by people aged 25 and over, and a quarter by people over 40, reflecting their use in raising workforce skills and value to people of all ages.  

The rise in more people taking vocational courses is accompanied by increased success rates for learners. Passes at further education colleges increased by an average of 2.5% a year between 2003 and 2007 to reach 78% last year.  For those taking higher education vocational qualifications in colleges, the success rate was over 77% – about the same as for higher education overall.  Success rates for Apprenticeships have risen substantially in recent years and currently stand at 63% – comparable to other European countries.

The main benefits to employers of vocational qualifications identified in the Review include:   

  • More people with work ready skills
  • Increased staff productivity, less waste and increased profit
  • Enhanced staff motivation
  • Improved staff retention when offered in the workplace
  • Helping employers ensure they comply with current legislation, such as the Disability Discrimination Act
  • The provision of a ‘licence to practise’ in the relevant profession or industry.

  Other key findings in the Review include: 

  • There are marked gender differences in vocational qualifications achievement. Overall, more women than men gain vocational qualifications, but they are massively under-represented in some subjects. 
  • 36% of all NVQs achieved by women were in Health, Public Services & Care while engineering accounted for less than three per cent. 
  • Ethnic minority participation in vocational qualifications is variable – with participation in Apprenticeships especially low. 
  • Black and minority ethnic (BME) participation in (mainly vocational) college programmes is around 17%.  However, less than seven per cent of Apprentices are of BME origin, with participation particularly low among Indian, black African and Chinese communities. 
  • Take up and quality of vocational qualifications varies from region to region. 
  • 37 % of all post-16 learning (excluding higher education) in Wales and Scotland is linked to vocational qualifications.  This is higher than England (32%) and Northern Ireland (26%).

Andy Powell, chief executive of Edge, welcomed the publication of the report: “Vocational courses are of the highest standard and truly equip people for the world of work. In the future, the publication of this Review will enable the public to judge the numbers of people gaining such vital qualifications and assess the quality of the courses on offer year on year.  It’s therefore vital that we continue to build on the success so clearly identified in this Review and we hope to see the continued expansion of the numbers taking vocational qualifications to ensure highly-skilled workers are available to fill the gaps provided by increased employment opportunities.


“Vocational qualifications provide people with fantastic opportunities in life and I congratulate all vocational learners who are celebrating VQ Day with us today – and the staff who made this success possible.”

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