A new school year is beginning as I write this, with tens of thousands of teenagers joining sixth forms up and down the country ready to study for ‘A’ levels in anything from Art to Ancient history.
For many of those young people, that will be the best – probably the only – decision they could make at this stage in their lives. Education is vitally important, and leaving school with good qualifications is essential.
Many of those same students will then make the next ‘logical’ step and head off to university, where they will gain more skills (not to mention a huge debt), make new friends, learn independence and hopefully pick up a degree in the process.
It all makes sense for those with a clear career path, who have ambitions to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, accountant, scientist, social worker or, these days, nurse. But is it right for everyone? University has become almost an automatic next step after leaving school, but for some students it’s not necessarily the best route.
The groundworks and construction industry needs a good supply of skilled people, and for some – like quantity surveyors and civil engineers – a degree is essential.
For others, though, there are BTec and similar qualifications that provide an equally valid route to a job and a career without the need to spend three or four years racking up big debts to emerge with a degree that’s not particularly relevant or helpful when work beckons.
I suspect the days of the more outlandish courses ended with the introduction of fees, but we still seem to be turning out an awful lot of sports scientists and film and media studies graduates.
What we, as an industry, need are well trained, well skilled technicians, drivers, machine operators and the myriad other people who work in this country’s construction industry and help support growth and economic success.
We need to ensure there are more apprenticeships, we need to provide the right courses and the right support to allow young people to access those courses and we need careers advisers to help young people make a sensible choice that is geared towards a job rather than a qualification.
As a society, let’s stop pretending that an irrelevant degree is the ultimate educational goal and recognise that for most people the important thing is to end up with a job. And as an industry, let’s commit to more and better apprenticeships, high quality training and first class support for young entrants.