The Department for Education has announced that adults will now be able to access more alternatives to university degrees under new measures to boost the nation’s skills and job prospects.

As part of the Government’s Skills for Jobs, a campaign set out to promote lifelong learning, the Department for Education has outlined a multi-million pound package to bolster higher technical education.

The package will help colleges and universities invest in new equipment that will support technical studies, and boost training opportunities with businesses in areas such as digital and construction.

In addition to this, it will also create new, shorter courses for working adults in STEM subjects like engineering and manufacturing, giving those wishing to upskill or retrain greater flexibility in how and when they study.

After a major review of current Higher Technical Education, it was found that these qualifications could unlock certain skillsets that employers are lacking at present.

However, the Government has noted a lack of uptake in this arena – with only 4 per cent of young people achieving a higher technical level by the age of 25. This is compared to a third (33 per cent) who get a degree by this stage.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

Investment in higher technical skills will support more people to secure exciting and rewarding careers, fill skills gaps in our economy and help us build back better from the pandemic.

We also want to counter the myth that a degree is the only way to a good job. This funding will help open up more high quality training alternatives for people, empowering them to get the skills they need to build the life they want, wherever they live.

It is expected that funding will be invested from Summer 2021 to kickstart work to ensure more Higher Technical Education is on offer across the country, providing more people with high-quality alternatives to university degrees.

From September 2022 the government will start rolling out newly approved Higher Technical Qualifications, starting with Digital. Construction and Health and Science will follow in 2023 with a full suite of qualifications rolled out by 2025.

Qualifications will only be approved where there is a clear employer demand for these skills, meaning future employees will be trained in areas where prevalent skills gaps currently exist.

Barney Taylor, Managing Director, Europe at Ensono, a hybrid IT services provider, reacted to this announcement, stating:

Today’s funding announcement will be a welcome boost for Higher Technical Education, ensuring more young people can benefit from the unique blend of training and industry experience provided by these courses – vital experience as they start in their career. Taking the time to build key skills in young people is of huge value to any firm, creating cohorts of talented future employees with new perspectives that will drive innovation that is essential for business growth.

It is excellent to see digital skills at the heart of this investment package. The pandemic has demonstrated the strength of the UK technology sector, leading the way in everything from data-driven healthcare to new frontiers in digital-first payments solutions.

If the UK is to keep its status as a global leader in technology, Higher Technical Education need to form one part of a broader effort on the part of government and private sector to nurture the next generation of talent. We need to build a strong ecosystem of training, work experience, and outreach that ensures opportunities in technology are open to all.