Vocational training was put in the spotlight as Education Secretary Damian Hinds had a whistle-stop tour of initiatives designed to equip young people on the Fylde with the skills they need for their future careers.
Mr Hinds admitted in recent times not enough emphasis has been put on more practical learning such as that being taught at Blackpool and the Fylde College.
But he said Government was addressing the issue with initiatives such as ‘T’ or ‘technical’ levels which will rank alongside ‘A’ levels in terms of prestige.
The minister met students at the college’s Nautical Campus in Fleetwood yesterday, who are learning the hands-on skills required for a career at sea.
He was given a tour of hi-tech teaching areas including the bridge simulator used by young people studying navigation, and the Marine Engineering Centre.
Mr Hinds told The Gazette: “There is no doubt over a long period of time we haven’t put as much emphasis on technical and vocational learning as we should have done as a country.
“That goes through changes of government and changes of decade.
“We’re now at a point where we are redressing that balance and there are some really important reforms.
“There is a massive growth in apprenticeships and the apprenticeship levy to make sure all big employers are investing in skills.
“That funding in apprenticeships is an important funding stream for colleges like this doing the training element.”
He added half a billion pounds of funding was also being put into ‘T’ levels which would have the same prestige as ‘A’ levels but with a focus on technical education.
Mr Hinds said the training he saw during his visit was a good example of a college delivering skills required by a growing industry.
He said: “The college is a national leader in further education and it has been great to meet the principal Beverley Robinson and hear some of her vision in terms of understanding the needs of employers, specifically in maritime where there are very strong connections with operators.
“We can see how this manifests itself thought the very practical learning we have seen today from essential skills such as putting pipes together to the very high tech bridge simulator.”
During his visit to the Fylde, Mr Hinds also saw first hand the work of Blackpool Build Up which targets long-term adult jobless residents by giving them the skills needed to take up jobs in the construction industry.
He also met with head teachers to discuss the progress made since Blackpool was named last year as one of 12 Opportunity Areas.
Between now and 2020 it is hoped to break down the barriers which prevent Blackpool schoolchildren from fulfilling their potential.
The resort is currently ranked 316th out of 324 districts when it comes to social mobility.
Mr Hinds said: “There are great schools everywhere and there are great teachers everywhere.
“Opportunity Areas are about making sure there are more of them and that they are more evenly spread.
“In Blackpool part of our focus is to make sure everyone can see the maximum range of things they can do in their life and that horizons are as broad as they can be.
“This means working with the schools, nurseries, employers, colleges, businesses and everybody locally about how they can overcome some of those barriers.
“Even to the extent of having a careers fair in junior school.
“You’re not choosing a job or a career then, but you are starting to think about what you’re going to do one day and what you need to do in terms of working on your maths or your science.
“Here in Blackpool there is also a focus on English and Maths and how that is so important in the workplace.
“We are also helping teachers who are thinking of going into school leadership to enable more of them to do that.”
Blackpool and the Fylde College’s Nautical Campus has about 450 students, and is one of four nautical colleges in the UK.
Students come from all over the world and most are sponsored by shipping companies or off-shore industries.
Courses include distance-learning where people are studying remotely if they are already at sea.
The Government is investing another £15m over the next seven years in support for maritime training.
This will enable an extra 400 seafarer cadets to be trained annually and doubles Whitehall funding for young people to £30m a year through its Support for Maritime Training (SMarT) programme,
Student James Dunn, who was part of a class in the Marine Engineering Centre, said: “We have to accrue many months of hands on practical skills towards our final qualification.
“The skills and techniques we are learning here are quite regular tasks once we’re on board ship.”
Neil Atkinson, head of Fleetwood Nautical Campus, said: “It’s fantastic the Secretary of State for Education is so interested in everything we are doing here, which can only be good for education and the future of the UK.”