Liberal Britain is a country where vocational education is taken seriously


Your Liberal Britain‘Good for Youth, Good for Business’ is the title of a publication by the European Alliance for Apprenticeships that contains a small selection of organisations, examples and projects linked to apprenticeships in the EU, including examples from Britain.

What makes this relevant to a truly Liberal Britain?

In my view you can tell we don’t yet live in a truly Liberal Britain because:

Apprenticeships are still seen as “second class” in relation to a conventional degree.

Why does it matter?

The word liberal is often associated with freedom of choice, with tolerance, with personal liberties.

I believe strongly that young people in particular should feel free to choose an educational and career path that provides them with fulfilment in line with their interests and talents. In a truly Liberal Britain there are no occupations that are more respectable than others.

There are historical reasons why in contrast to some other European countries, there is less commercial demand for skilled people due to a loss of certain industries in Britain. Other potential de-railing factors are the lack of a holistic education system that provides a framework for successful apprenticeships, a corporate sector that does not see technical and vocational training as a key responsibility, and stigma attached to vocational and technical training among young people.

And there is suspicion of state oversight of training. I suggest that we do need to think about that again.

By making a link between a Liberal Britain and people in education, employment or training. I suggest that building a Liberal Britain would improve people’s lives by:

Maximising the number of young people in education, employment or training.

We cannot and should not remove the state from building a Liberal Britain. In England, the regions with the highest proportion of 16-24 year olds who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) are the North East, the North West, and Yorkshire & Humber. These are the heartlands of the traditional British industries.

Building a Liberal Britain that would improve people’s lives requires the right priorities, funding and opportunities in all parts of Great Britain and to measure its success or otherwise, to enable continuous improvement.

My suggestion is that in a Liberal Britain we would:

Revolutionise Further Education to enable a more effective dual practical and theoretical vocational educational training.

  • By reducing fragmentation, with the aim to achieve consistent qualifications nationally, as well as by measure of international standards. In a Liberal Britain, the state and business will have to come an agreement.
  • By optimising how the cost of such a system is shared between the apprentice, businesses and the state.
  • By continuing to build on corporate employer and industry association engagement to foster a flexible approach to vocational training that reflects the less industrial base of our service industries like insurance services.

So as I look back over my answers, and I think about what ties them all together, I would complete this sentence as follows:

In sum, for me, Liberal Britain is a country where high productivity builds on both skills and knowledge.

This piece is part of the Your Liberal Britain series of posts here on Lib Dem Voice. Everyone can take part – why not send in your own vision for Liberal Britain? 
Your Liberal Britain is a grassroots initiative launched and run by new members of the party, inviting every Lib Dem to help explain what the party stands for. We all know we want to build a fair, free and open society – but what would it actually look like? And why should anyone care?
To take part, simply write 500 words in response to the question ‘What would a truly Liberal Britain look like, and what improvements would it bring to people’s lives?“, and send it to [email protected], mentioning ‘Liberal Britain’ in the subject line.
To get inspiration for your post, read others in the series, and take a look at all these ideas that other members have submitted to Your Liberal Britain. You can also get involved by hosting a simple discussion evening with your local party – everything you need to run one is right here.


* Thomas Liebers joined the Lib Dems in May last year, is an active campaigner in Richmond and is a member of the London Regional Executive.

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  • In the building profession, there is a huge shortage of skills, and the native tradesmen (and they are mostly men) are getting older. I get the impression that many in the younger generation going into the skilled trades don’t really have their heart in it.

    I quite agree that the immediate task is in achieving parity between the vocational and academic. It would be fantastic if we could catch up with the German attitude to technical education (bring back the Polytechnics!).

  • Ed Shepherd 15th Mar '16 - 1:01am

    Unless you are going to create an economy where a careworker, a nurse, a fitter, a bus driver, a production line worker, a call centre worker, a mechanic or a barrista gets paid as much as a barrister, a solicitor, a doctor, a dentist, a hedge fund manager, an accountant, an FTSE100 CEO or a university vice chancellor, then its quite understandable that young people will try to get the degrees and postgraduate qualifications to enter those highly paid professions. The odds are deliberately stacked against them obviously and they will incur eyewatering debts to get those degrees and professional qualifications but in a society where the wealthy are admired by the media and the poor are despised, who can blame young people for hoping to join the wealthy?

  • David Evershed 15th Mar '16 - 11:38am

    Vocational and University education are not an either/or choice.

    After ‘A’ levels I spent a year as an engineering apprentice before going to university to study engineering.

    The same could apply to most occupations including law, computing and so on.

  • A very important subject. There have been constant complaints going back to at least 1850 (not a typo!) that Britain doesn’t train enough trade skills and repeated royal commissions etc. have found that this is a major source of competitive disadvantage compared with continental rivals. And still university-obsessed politicians don’t ‘get it’.

    There are, however, exceptions. British training for the ‘professional’ trades, accountancy, the law etc. is traditionally very good. Many accounting firms in particular DO take on trainees and give them very substantial (e.g. £5,000 p.a.) training packages in addition to salary even for non-graduates. That’s a model that could and should be adapted for wider use.

    The funny/tragic thing about this is that employers reluctance to pay for training is perfectly reasonable and is a classic case of market failure yet the supposedly market-obsessed neoliberals in the Tory party (and some others!) have always tried to solve this with administrative solutions that would not have been out of place in the old Soviet Union – Osborne apparently ‘knows’ how many apprentices we need next year and may well tell us in his budget. Translation: this is a context where a market based solution would be made-to-measure perfect but it’s not been tried. Astonishing!

    I disagree with the article on two points though. The aim should not be to MAXIMISE the number of YOUNG people in training etc. It is QUALITY that should be maximised with different courses aimed at different but overlapping qualifications of different levels so there is something for the high flyer but also for the steady plodder. That’s how it works in accountancy and it’s a great virtue of the system that it doesn’t try and pretend that everyone can be chiefs but recognises that indians are needed too. Of course, if the quality is right the numbers will follow (look up ‘obliquity’ for the reason) but this doesn’t work the other way round – i.e. numbers do not lead to quality.

    Also it shouldn’t be just YOUNG people. Everything is changing so fast that many are finding a need (or perhaps just a desire) to change course many years after leaving school. Practicalities (like families) mean that the numbers of mature candidates will always be small but that doesn’t mean this group is unimportant. For that reason there should be no age bar.

  • Simon Banks 18th Mar '16 - 9:38am

    I would agree with that, but equally: A Liberal Britain is one where non-vocational education is taken seriously.

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