Growth in the vocational sector
Special Report
Vocational programmes are attractive as a means to gaining job-ready skills within a smaller, more protected environment, says Bethan Norris.

"We have found that perceptions around vocational study are changing," says Rebecca Willis at Greater Brighton Metropolitan College "There is a much wider acceptance that it is a valid and accessible route into work and into higher      education. Vocational colleges work closely with local employers and know the job market, so we are very well placed to take advantage of any new apprenticeship schemes."


The role of vocational education has changed for recent generations and it is no longer seen as the poor relation to degree-level university study. The increased global competition in the workforce means that relevant skills have become more important to employers than evidence of high-level academic ability in a less relevant topic. Employers are now looking for employees who can provide evidence that they are fully conversant with their job role before they start and don't require time to get up to speed. In our fast-paced global society, employers can no longer spend time waiting for new starters to settle in and increasingly expect them to hit the ground running. And this is where the role of vocational education comes into its own with courses that produce job-ready graduates with certified experience in the market.



Rebecca in Brighton says that the most popular courses with international students are their Art and Design foundation courses, which are awarded by the University of the Arts London, and an FdA Hospitality & Tourism Management foundation degree, which includes an opportunity for a work placement as part of the course. "As the main vocational college in Brighton, we have fantastic links with local business and organisations," she adds. "Students are expected to find their own placements but we offer additional help and support for our international students. This helps them to become work ready and bridge the gap between education and work."


A StudyTravel Magazine snap poll of 42 education agents reveals that enquiries for vocational courses increased by 63 per cent in the last 12 months and the most popular subject areas were Business followed by Computing/IT, Travel and Tourism and Catering/Hospitality. While some vocational providers offer courses in a range of subject areas, others focus and become specialists in one main career field, often as a result of local demand from a specific industry.



One of these is the Cinema Make-up School in California, USA. Lee Joyner at the school says that international interest in their vocational courses has always been high as a result of the school's specialist focus and location within the US film industry. "With our advanced training classes, we stand out from all international make-up schooling, and due to our 20-plus years of experience, our strong connections with industry leaders, and our large number of graduates working around the world, incoming students have faith and trust in our institution." As with most specialist vocational providers, a major attraction for international students is the work experience element of the programmes offered at the school. "Most of our international students will stay during their generally granted month after graduation, getting intern and no-pay job experience, so they can have Hollywood experience on their resume," explains Lee. "With our M-1 visa, students will have to leave the country before coming back in - with a few exceptions - but some do indeed return to Los Angeles to enrol in English classes or local universities and colleges for art, film or business degrees, getting more no-pay experience during that time."


Sometimes demand from industry in a country or region directly drives the provision of vocational education within a business sector. LaVern Phillips from the Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM) in Virginia, USA, says that global growth in the commercial aviation sector means that demand for technicians will increase in the future. "The Boeing forecast reports a need for 679,000 technicians by the year 2035 in the commercial sector," he says. "China as well as SE Asia and India are expanding their infrastructure and growing the aviation sector rapidly. Buying aircraft is the easiest part, maintaining aircraft requires experienced and licensed technicians."



Demand for AIM's courses is also likely to increase in the future with a predicted change in classification of the career field of Aviation Maintenance Technician to align it with current STEM subjects. A change in classification would see an increase in the length of Optional Practical Training (OPT) allowed to three years. LaVern says, "We will definitely see an uptake in student enrolments as the shortage of trained and licensed technicians will drive higher salaries. That is already occurring even here in the USA. AIM was chosen by a foreign airline to train their employees here in several of our 11 campuses. We are also in discussion with foreign governments to potentially open aviation maintenance schools in their countries as well as train their citizens and employees in our schools here in the USA."


While global demand for vocational programmes appears to be on the up generally, providers in the UK and Australia report that recent policy changes in their countries have hampered growth in the sector. "Our number of international students from 2015 to 2016 increased by 30 per cent," says Jose Marco from the Australian Academy of Commerce in New South Wales. "The year of 2017 is predicted to be slightly lower due to many changes of the immigration law, which make is harder for [students from] some countries to enrol at our colleges."


Jose points out that a popular route from education to permanent residence in Australia has been closed for many overseas students recently and this is likely to affect demand for vocational courses. "The 457 visa was one of the best ways for international students to get a permanent visa," he says. "However, the government has abolished more than 200 jobs on the list. This definitely affects the intention of students from many countries to come to Australia to study."


Similarly in the UK, the potential for growth in the international vocational sector is being hampered by government attempts to stem permanent migration routes. Jeremy Oughton at Sussex Coast College Hastings in the UK says, "While the interest in our vocational courses remains high, the number of students actually studying with us has slightly decreased. I think the main reason for this is due to the changes in the visa application, making it harder for students to attain the relevant visas they need to study here for a prolonged period of time." He adds that their most popular vocational courses are Engineering, Business, Health and Social Care. "These courses also cater for the skills needed in Hastings and are very popular."


One way that vocational providers in the UK are adapting to the recent visa changes is to team up with higher education providers in the country and offer foundation pathways to university accredited courses. Jo Minns from Bath College in the UK says that they have recently started offering an International Foundation Year (IFY) Programme in partnership with the University of Bath. "The University of Bath provides the college with a list of degree courses that are eligible for entry by the IFY students should they meet the criteria. The most popular courses are always in the School of Management, e.g. Accounting and Finance, Business and Economics," she adds.


Looking to the future, Jo believes that, despite challenges, recruitment potential is high. "We follow the intelligence from the British Council very closely and the future is looking more of a challenge for the UK to recruit due to the expense, visa restrictions and instability of government. I think that China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, India and Saudi Arabia are our markets to invest into for the near future.




Whistler Adventure School Case Study


Whistler Adventure School (WAS) in Canada is a new vocational school which has filled a gap in the market for education in adventure tourism. Zuzana Dugan at the school, says that international students want to experience something different. "They are no longer satisfied with an academic curriculum or language classes," she says. "Students want to be hands on and learn something that they can take back with them. That's where we excel."


The school offers a broad range of courses focusing on all aspects of adventure tourism, including Ski/Snowboarding Guide Training, Alpine Guide Training, Retail and Manufacturing and Marketing Media Manager, Zuzana stresses, "WAS is not a usual school. All our classes are hands-on/legs-on and interactive and the majority of the courses are outdoor courses. The students learn the skills by performing them themselves."


Students typically go on to careers in adventure tourism. "Some of our WAS students have started their own company in the field of study. We have graduates who have started their own ski or snowboard manufacturing and bike mechanic shops."




"One success story in particular was Daniela Durr, a German student who studied with us for a year, returned to Germany to attend university and has since been working in the UK for an IT specialist and is planning to gain even more qualifications at university in the USA"


Jeremy Oughton, Head of Business at Sussex Coast College Hastings, UK


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