Skills training vs higher education: what’s the best option for learners?

Posted on 22nd November 2019
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There's been some discussion online and in the media about the future of education and which pathway best fits the growing needs of the 21st century workplace (some have even suggested that skills training should replace higher education). This week, we look at both skills training/higher education and discuss what's the best option for learners.

Skills training can be described as the process of learning job or industry specific skills, typically in a shorter period of time than the higher education pathway; an example of this are our CTH Culinary courses. Higher education is education beyond secondary education, typically done through college or university; an example of this are our university degree pathways.

Now that that’s clarified, let’s look at some of the arguments for and against skills training replacing higher education:

Skills training SHOULD replace higher education:

1) Skills training offers learners practical skills, which makes it easier for employers to identify competent and ready-to-work applicants.

2) The existing university degree model is dying and doesn't equip learners with the knowledge they need in the fast moving industries.

3) The debt incurred from university fees is increasing with no longer a guarantee of a high paying job at the end of the degree.

Skills training SHOULD NOT replace higher education:

1) Skills training cannot offer the invaluable interpersonal, critical thinking and analytical skills associated with what you gain from higher education studies.

2) Employers aren’t just looking at skills for today, but want a workforce that can also meet future challenges.

3) Ditching higher education is short sighted and will only produce a generation who have hardly any labour mobility.

From weighing up the arguments, it's evident to see that both routes to employment, whether that be; skills training or higher education, play an important role in the development of learners. Much of the past discussions have centered around one extreme over another, when in actuality, both education pathways can exist simultaneously, as they have done. The most important aspect in all of this is, relevance and progression.

Are learners being taught skills that they need to get a job and can they progress in their roles?

A holistic approach isn’t needed, what is needed is an approach that is industry relevant. Take the UAE’s hospitality industry for example, in order to cope with the increase in tourism they will experience due to Expo 2020and beyond that, they need a workforce who have the skills needed for them to work immediately. To meet this growing need they have encouraged the teaching of skills based training, which is shorter and equips learners with job specific skills. However, what happens after 10 years when the industry is completely different and you have a workforce who haven’t been taught to think critically to meet the challenges of a new day and age?

Industries who favour skills training must ensure they have a form of re-training in place, to allow their workforce to grow, adapt and increase their career prospects; in that way, employers make the most of their workforce.

For learners who go down the higher education pathway, they must ensure they are confident in what industry and career they want before taking on such a big commitment. They must utilise the resources they have at their disposal by taking part in extra curricular activities and joining groups related to their course - this demonstrates their commitment to the industry and demonstrates skills that are key in the workplace, such as teamwork and passion.

Being able to work and live independently, whilst learning how to make connections with people are invaluable skills that you can gain through universities. However, due to the bureaucracy involved at university level, it can take a while to make the necessary updates to university degrees so that they are industry relevant. Maybe, we should look to make amendments to the system rather than a complete overhaul?

Ultimately, both routes have their merits, what’s essential is that the potential pathways are as clear as possible for learners, by using tools such as case studies and past-student experiences. Remaining relevant to the industry that they are going into is paramount and the industry must ensure employees are given flexibility in their roles to achieve both horizontal and vertical career growth.

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