On the day BTEC learners will be finding out their results, Cindy Rampersaud writes about how their skills will help the country rebuild.

This year, 250,000 post-16 young people and adults will be receiving their BTEC qualifications. It is a time of anticipation, nervousness and hope but set against the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19 the class of 2020 are truly deserving of special recognition for their hard-work and tenacity.

But while it has presented its evident challenges, COVID–19 has provided an opportunity to reassess and genuinely appreciate the contribution of key workers. Throughout the lockdown we relied heavily on care workers, nurses, and food retailers, to keep so many aspects of our daily lives going. Many of these individuals would have gone to a further education college or studied with a training provider, and many of these will have taken a BTEC, apprenticeship or other vocational qualification.

Included in the class of 2020 receiving their BTEC results this year will be 65,000 taking their first steps towards being the key workers of tomorrow, helping the country to rebuild. 4,000 prospective construction workers will receive their results this year, along with a further 45,000 health and social care professionals and 15,000 engineers. Many others will be progressing onto university.

Despite the wider economic backdrop, employment prospects for those heading into these careers are promising. Currently, there is a shortage of over 100,000 full-time equivalent staff in the NHS and a further 122,000 in adult social care; by 2035 there will be around 950,000 new adult social care workers needed and the King’s Fund suggests the NHS workforce gap could reach almost 250,000 by 2030.

In addition, experts forecast that around 203,000 people with engineering skills are needed every year and around 168,500 construction jobs will be created by 2023.

The Chancellor has recently recognised just how vital these workers will be to the national effort by committing a further £100m to fund further training places for health and social care, engineering and construction at his recent economic statement.

Globally, we are also seeing confidence in vocational education rising. This week Pearson released its second annual Global Learner Survey, capturing the voice of over 7,000 people worldwide (from seven countries, including 1000 respondents from the UK). 69 per cent in UK (72 per cent globally) in 2020 said a degree or certificate from a vocational college or trade school is more likely to result in a good job with career prospects than a university degree (up from 66 per cent last year in UK and 68 per cent globally). This is a pattern we’re seeing with our BTECs, with students in countries as far away as Thailand and China signing up to study them and seeing the value of these vocational career focused qualifications.

Conducted in May 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, the data throws up some interesting questions for the education sector in this increasingly digital environment and disrupted economy. The findings show learners see COVID as a turning point for modern learning, with online schooling and the need for more digital skills leaving a lasting mark. Globally and in the UK, 87 per cent of respondents said that the economic disruption of COVID means people now need to be comfortable working remotely and in highly digital environments. To achieve this, traditional education programs won’t be enough, with 89 per cent of learners globally (88 per cent in UK) saying that people will need to develop more digital skills such as virtual collaboration, communication, analysing data or managing remote teams to move forward in this economy.

Building these core skills and employability through the course of study has always been the central part of the BTEC offer. We place a real focus on developing content and curriculum to allow access and progression for the specific sector a course is related to, as well as the transferable skills that are relevant to many different sectors. We’re also working to look at what the emerging industries are and where the jobs of the future will be, especially post-Covid and with our ever-increasing reliance on technology.

Today is a moment to salute the hard work and dedication of the class of 2020, who have had to continue their studies during an extraordinary time. We should also reflect on the value that the FE sector brings to communities and the wider UK PLC economy and the importance it holds for our future economic recovery. I look forward to seeing what careers this cohort goes on to and the impact they’ll have on our society