And apprenticeships inspire high levels of ambition, confidence and eloquence says Matthew Coffey, National Director of Further Education and Skills

This is an important week for vocational education. The Worldskills competition in Leipzig, Germany is showcasing some of the world’s best young trainees. They will compete for medals in 46 disciplines ranging from hairdressing to engineering. This is a great opportunity for visitors and young people to celebrate vocational skills whilst at the same time offering a fantastic opportunity for young people to seek advice on their future careers. I wish Team UK every success.

Many of you will know that my belief in the value of vocational learning stems from my own experience. While I can’t claim to have represented my country in a Worldskills competition, my vocational education led me to self-employment, university, teaching and ultimately to the Civil Service. I am also a very proud father of two children; one a university graduate and the other an apprentice. Both are very happy in their respective employment and are enjoying equal success and career satisfaction.

Ofsted has long recognised the importance of vocational education and training. Last week, I had the pleasure of showing some of the best apprenticeship training in the world to Sir Michael Wilshaw at Rolls Royce PLC’s state-of-the-art Apprentice Academy in Derby. As a global provider of power systems to civil and defence aerospace and marine and energy markets, Rolls Royce develops its own and many of its suppliers’ workforce. ‘Rolls Royce’ is a synonym in the English language for outstanding quality and everything we saw during our visit reinforced that.

Niel Folkes, Rolls Royce’s learning and development manager made it clear to us that British apprentices are the best in the world. He focuses on developing not only high quality vocational skills, but developing employees’ initiative and ability to work as a team or as individuals to solve problems and continually improve products, giving Rolls Royce its competitive edge.

We were shown around by apprentices from a range of backgrounds including those who joined Rolls Royce at 16 from schools. We also saw those who studied A-levels and who attended University Technical Colleges. One apprentice had begun reading physics at Oxford but wanted more contact time and hands-on experience, which he felt the apprenticeship gave him.

Despite their very different starting points the apprentices shared many characteristics, including high levels of ambition, confidence and eloquence and all took great pride in their work. Not many young people would be able to describe to Sir Michael how a jet engine works and how a turbine can heat to beyond melting point and continue to function perfectly, but we met ones who could. One apprentice, happily explained how he had performed badly in maths at school, but now he could see the purpose of trigonometry and was doing very well with his studies.  I was encouraged to see that when maths and English are applied in the workplace, learners see their relevance and enjoy their learning.

I attend many conferences where the discussion inevitably turns to the status of vocational education versus the academic route. We can continue this debate in years to come, or we can do something about it. Rolls Royce has a practical solution to this, encouraging their staff to sit on governing boards of local schools. This helps staff understand and influence both the education, information, advice and guidance young people receive, so they are better prepared and able to enter work.   I am pleased Rolls Royce recognises the importance of receiving feedback and driving improvement in all levels of education instead of worrying about how they will be judged by Ofsted and how this may damage governors’ professional reputation in the business community. I urge other employers and providers of high-quality education and training to do the same.

I for one will be watching the Worldskills competition in Leipzig with great interest and looking forward to the Skills show in the UK this November. Events like these help to raise the profile of vocational education and training as we strive to make sure the vocational route has equal status to the academic route in the eyes of schools, young people and their parents.

Matthew Coffey, National Director of Further Education and Skills