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International approaches to the development of intermediate level skills and apprenticeships: Synthesis report

A longstanding feature of the UK vocational education and training (VET) system, in comparison with some of its main competitors, has been its relative weakness regarding intermediate level training. This was recognised at the end of the 1980s in the Low Skills Equilibrium hypothesis, amplified in the National Skills Task Force’s reports, and reiterated in various editions of Skills in England in the 2000s (e.g. Campbell et al, 2001; IER and CE, 2003; Hogarth and Wilson, 2005). The Leitch Review (HM Treasury, 2006) drew attention to the need for a step change in skill levels if the UK was to maintain its position in the global rankings of industrial states. More recently, the National Strategic Skills Audit for England by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (2010a) focused attention on the need for intermediate level skills demand to be stimulated if key sectors were to support economic and employment growth. There is little doubt that the UK needs to improve its supply and deployment of intermediate level skills, but the very fact that, twenty years after the Low Skills Hypothesis was first aired, policy is still drawing attention to this issue indicates the intractability of the problem. Nevertheless, much has changed in the VET landscape in the UK over recent decades just as other national VET systems have changed too. This project allows a comparison with three countries which apply significantly different but nevertheless successful1 Of course, the systems these countries have in place cannot be transferred lock, stock and barrel to the UK. If it was that simple this would have occurred many years ago, but there are likely to be important conclusions from the analysis of the three selected alternatives, which indicate the direction in which the UK can develop its intermediate VET system. approaches to intermediate level vocational training: Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. Australia’s VET system was modelled on that in the UK, but it has developed its own qualification structures which have been able to attract rising shares of young and older workers. The German and Dutch approaches are widely regarded as exemplars in the development of intermediate level skills but differ significantly regarding the role of company-based apprenticeship training.