Graduates are more likely to be employed - and as likely to succeed in HE - if they studied a vocational course at sixth form or college, a new study has found.  

Read more

Analysis of Labour Force statistics in the study by London Economics (10 May 2013) indicates that university graduates who only studied vocational qualifications at sixth form or college were more likely to be in employment than their peers who had studied purely academic qualifications like A levels. Across age groups and genders, graduates with BTECs had an average full-time employment rate of 80% compared to A level only graduates with a rate of 74%.

These figures underline the role that qualifications which develop vocational skills could play in reducing the UK’s historically high unemployment rates now and in the future.

Progression to Higher Education

Although many more A level students progress to university than those studying vocational qualifications, thousands are now starting degrees having completed BTECs and other qualifications, often after a period of time in the workplace. Almost 40% of BTEC learners are aged 27 or above when they achieve their degree, compared to only about 10% of A level learners.

The figures indicate that A level learners take a much more ‘linear’ path compared to ‘non-linear’ BTEC learners, who have a mix of education and employment experience. However, over half of BTEC graduates progress straight to university on completing college or after a short break.

Beyond Higher Education

Figures showed that graduates who had studied BTECs at school and college were on a par with their A level only peers in terms of the jobs they subsequently secured. On some measures they did better - more BTEC only graduates were found to be working as managers, senior officials, or in associate professional roles, compared to A level only graduates (48.9% compared to 45.1%).

  • 56.1% of BTEC students with a degree studied engineering, maths and computing, and business and finance compared to only 26.8% of A level students.
  • On average, BTEC students graduating from university are as likely to achieve a first class degree, compared to their A level peers (BTEC graduates at 12.2% compared to 11.4% for A level).
  • Male graduates with a BTEC in the Tyne and Wear and Northern regions, West Yorkshire, East Anglia, parts of the West Midlands and Northern Ireland earn more than those who only did A levels at college and sixth form, though this effect is reversed in London and the South East.
  • Across all regions, BTEC graduates in skilled trade occupations earn more.

Rod Bristow from Pearson said:

“We already know that there is a strong positive correlation between having a vocational qualification such as a BTEC and being in employment. This new data shows that vocational qualifications, like A levels, also give you the opportunity to excel at university.''

Dr Gavan Conlon of London Economics said:

“Having looked at the data of tens of thousands of workers across several sectors over a number of years, this analysis is clear that those learners who attained their degree through the BTEC route are more likely to be employed.

“With a rapidly changing economy, people need to continually update and adapt their skills, and we’re seeing people take up degrees later in life as well as school leavers. The blend of skills and motivation developed through vocational qualifications and time in work may prove to be the recipe for long term resilience in the employment market.”