Adding value to the UK economy with vocational training

Voc_TrainingEconomists at the University of Sheffield are playing a pivotal role in discovering which vocational training courses add the biggest value to the UK economy and offer the best opportunities for young people looking for high value jobs with high earning potential.

Led by the economics of education specialist, Steve McIntosh, the Sheffield team is part of a nationwide research consortium that includes the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE's) Centre for Economic Performance, London Economics and the Institute for Employment Studies.

The consortium beat stiff competition to establish a new government-funded Centre for Vocational Education Research, which will provide policy makers with the evidence they need when deciding the future of vocational education in England.

With unprecedented access to information on the six million people who go on training courses every year, the team has been set the difficult challenge of cleaning a vast amount of administrative data. “Our goal is to go beyond correlations by developing innovative, statistical techniques that will allow us to determine whether the training experience is the causal effect,” said Steve.

“By matching this data to tax and benefit records, we will be able to observe what people are doing, whether they are working or not, how much they are earning, and whether they are on benefits. This will give us a much more complete picture of the impact training is having on the economy, employers and young people. We will know which skills are most in demand and which qualifications seem best able to supply those skills,” he added.

Sheffield will also be doing some training of its own. “We have been asked by the government to develop the economics of education researchers of tomorrow. So we will have two new PhD students and a postdoctoral researchers working with us on this project. That makes it all the more exciting as it gives us the chance to build a critical mass of expertise in this vital field here in Sheffield,” Steve said.

We will know which skills are most in demand and which qualifications seem best able to supply those skills

Steve McIntosh, economics of education specialist

“We are trying to carry out the kind of experiment a physical scientist would do, holding other things constant so that we could take two identical youngsters, with similar key stage one and two test scores, who went to the same school and had the same average grades at age 16. The only difference would be that one did an apprenticeship and the other didn’t. This would allow us to move much closer to establishing cause and effect. That’s the challenge.” added Steve.

In addition to the number crunching, Steve will also be interviewing apprentices at the University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s Training Centre. “This will allow us to put some flesh on the bones of the data. We will be looking at what motivates young people to train, what their family background is like, how well they did at school, and what happens to them when they complete their course. It will also give us a unique insight into what apprenticeships are like in a university setting. ”