Academic snobbery threatens practical skills

14 December 2005
Academic snobbery threatens practical skills

Garry Hawkes, chairman of practical learning foundation Edge and former chief executive of Gardner Merchant (now Sodexho), believes that the hospitality industry must really focus on hands-on skills to ensure its long-term success. Motivation and encouragement must be incorporated into practical training, otherwise it will not work.

The UK has replaced class snobbery with academic snobbery, and this is a national disgrace. It has led to a decline in the status of practical skills and practical qualifications, not only in the hospitality industry, but in trade overall.

I have made it my mission at Edge to put energy, commitment and significant financial resources into creating real change. My hope is to embed the importance of practical skills into education and the workplace.

I began my working life as a management trainee in a large catering business, after three years of college training. I have tried every job from unit manager to chief executive to chairman over a 38-year period.

Continental Europe seems to have the balance right. One of the most important times in my life was living and working in Holland and Germany at the age of 35. For the first time, I saw consensual management in action and a commitment to training at all levels, against the background of real diversity of education.

Returning to the UK as managing director, I used this model to reconstruct the company. It was a great success. In 1980 the company established its own residential training centre with training kitchens, restaurants, laboratories and classrooms.

Because of my commitment to training, I was asked to be involved in many organizations including BTEC, Edexcel, Investors in People and the professional organization of the hotel and catering industry. So I have been involved in vocational education for some time and have seen lots of changes. However, I am still deeply frustrated with the education system.

Back in 1955 an HND in engineering made you a local hero. You had real skills. Parents were proud and employers wanted you. The fact is that HNDs and qualifications like them have been replaced by a pursuit of university education.

This process is driven by academic snobbery. Young people are being given phoney choices. They are told there is a vocational route in school when in reality vocational learning is perceived to be only suitable for the less able.

Gaining university entrance is the only goal, a process that alienates a significant minority of young people. A world where half are qualified and motivated and employable and half are unskilled and de-motivated is a recipe for social and economic disaster.

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