Page last updated at 23:13 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 00:13 UK

Vocational exams on the increase

Apprenticeships are more common in hospitality than plumbing

A total of 3.6 million vocational qualifications were awarded last year in the UK, an 11% increase on the previous year.

The growth has been driven by more pupils taking vocationally-related courses in school, rising to 322,000.

The figures, published by vocational education campaigners Edge, show the most popular vocational courses were in health, public services and care.

Edge's Andy Powell said "improving skills has to be a top priority".

The report on the state of vocational learning, the VQ Landscape 2009, is published on what the sector calls "VQ Day".

The day is intended to mark the awarding of work-related qualifications, echoing the days when A-level and GCSE grades are published.

It is an attempt to give status and identity to a diverse range of skills, which have been seen as overshadowed by academic qualifications.

Work skills

"Vocational learning is no longer a marginal topic or the option for other people's children," says Mr Powell, chief executive of Edge.

The report shows an increasing numbers of employees and trainees having their work skills accredited.

For instance, in the construction industry, there are 1.3 million workers participating in the Construction Skills Certification Scheme - an increase of 30% on the previous year.

Employers themselves can be the awarding body, such as Network Rail, Flybe and McDonald's.

And courses can be taken in school, further education colleges and with private training companies.

The length and expectations of courses, even at the same level, can vary widely, says the report.

A qualification in retail customer service can take 20 hours, while a cookery qualification at the same level can take 450 hours.

Apprenticeships, currently being promoted by the government as a flagship of vocational training, have risen by a small margin to 112,600.

Although the traditional image of an apprentice has been in crafts or in industry, there are more apprentices in hairdressing (9,700) than in engineering (7,800).

The largest single group of apprentices is in construction (12,800), with 7,800 in hospitality and 7,600 in childcare. Only 500 are apprentices in the gas industry and 3,500 are apprentices in plumbing.

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