Vocational training

Do boot camps offer the best professional training?

Vocational training is traditionally provided at the workplace and in day classes. But participants in Generation UK’s digital skills boot camp earlier this year learned theirs without even leaving home.

For 15 weeks, the dozen young learners met online to take a crash course in data analysis, hear from industry experts, work on freelance projects, and learn the basics of coding.

“The young people we’ve seen through the program have been fantastic,” says Clem Pickering, coach at Infinity Works, the digital consultancy that organizes the boot camp with Generation UK, a non-profit skills development organisation. . “They’ll end up with the skills to get a data engineer role.”

The scheme is one of more than 100 UK government-supported boot camps, part of a wider offer to develop lifelong vocational training in the country.

Boot camps – intensive courses lasting up to 16 weeks – are a favorite of UK policymakers keen to fill skills gaps that have held back economic productivity for decades.

Since 2020, the UK Treasury has invested over £100m in it, to provide the most in-demand skills, from data science and artificial intelligence to truck driving and construction. Learners who complete the course are guaranteed a job interview.

The unemployed receive full government funding for their courses. For those who are already employed but wish to boost their careers, employers pay 30% of the bill and the state the rest.

Part of the appeal of boot camps, say proponents, is that their brevity means learners don’t have to give up too much income or put their lives on hold, compared to other training routes. lifelong learning.

“They’re an exciting addition to the skills landscape,” says Simon Ashworth, director of policy for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers. “They fill skill gaps in a more flexible way. . . you can see why this is a great location.”

While boot camps in construction and other trades are held in person, many are also still online, giving participants a better opportunity to work flexibly and organize lessons around responsibilities, such as childcare.

Government analysis suggests that these digital boot camps have been more successful in attracting women than digital companies: almost half of the students who enroll in them are women, compared to 20% in the workforce digital.

However, it’s unclear if boot camps are the most effective way to complete the skills challenge. The most recent Department of Education Assessmentpublished in December 2021, indicates limited success, with one in five participants dropping out and only 54% of those who completed their course getting a new or better job.

The DfE also notes that the underlying data – collected from boot camp providers across the UK – was reported inconsistently and likely underestimated the number of people who did not complete their Classes.

Sue Pember, director of policy at Holex, the professional body for adult education providers, says that while these reporting gaps make it difficult to assess the success of programs, there have clearly been some issues.

Sue Pember, Director of Policy at Holex: Boot camp learners who have been out of school for a long time may need extra support

“The initial topics were really narrow and didn’t really fit the jobs available last year,” she says. In addition, support and clear progression pathways for learners were not always in place, so people who had been out of school for a long time did not have the tools to study or find a job afterwards.

“People who might be unemployed start these things and quit,” Pember notes. “They are demoralized because they had a bad experience with the course.”

The boot camps are part of a wider move towards what the UK government calls “modular learning”. Its aim is to shift the default for adult learning away from the three-year degree and towards shorter courses in targeted, work-specific areas – in part by changing student funding rules to allow people finance a wider range of courses using loans.

The skills gaps it tries to fill are not limited to the UK. Stefano Colli-Lanzi, chief executive and founder of human resources firm GI Group Holding, says the global labor market currently suffers from a “global shortage” – in terms of both talent and skills matching to jobs – that traditional training methods struggle to cope with.

A trainee truck driver stands next to his vehicle

Getting around: Truck driving is among the in-demand skills the UK would like more people to learn © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

There is something “unique” happening in the labor market, he adds. “The speed of this revolution is much faster than school systems and the ability of businesses to keep up with these trends. We must change the actors who are responsible for this process of upskilling.

But complicating matters in the UK is a rapid rotation of government policy over many years. A recent report by the Learning and Work Institute, a think tank, has highlighted an ‘alphabet soup of often short-lived policies and institutions’ designed to address lingering concerns about the UK’s skills base. He also notes that “access to training is very unequal”, to the detriment of low-paid and low-skilled workers.

There are other approaches. Pember singles out Singapore – which since 2015 has run a lifelong learning initiative called SkillsFuture – as a “cohesive system that doesn’t run in circles” and focuses on the individual.

Singapore gives all 25-year-olds a credit to spend on government-subsidized work-learning programs, provides young and mid-career workers with career guidance and skills checks, and brings together all career pathways. professional and academic learning under the same umbrella so people can easily move from course to course.

The percentage of older adults participating in continuing education in Singapore has risen from 30% to 48%, according to a report by the WorldSkills campaign group.

“The results are dramatic,” says Anthony Painter, director of policy and external affairs at the Chartered Management Institute. “What it did was give the individual an incentive to engage with the system.”

The success of interventions such as boot camps will depend on consistency, he argues. “If there is a collective will to . . . providing systems that last over time, we can overcome the politics back and forth,” says Painter. “But we have to learn.”