Speaking at a fringe event hosted by the Chartered Institute of Building, Helen Hayes, Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, said she considered the most effective areas in which professional bodies could contribute to economic growth were productivity and equality.
Schools’ focus on encouraging pupils to pursue a university education was linked, she suggested, with a lack of informed career advice.
There could be a “strong role” here for professional bodies if they engaged more closely with schools and took greater responsibility for bringing young people into their respective sectors, she said.
Building on this point, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Ben Willmott identified that the Further Education system in the UK was producing a highly skilled workforce, but this was not driving the creation of equivalent positions in the jobs market.
Currently 58% of graduates are in non-graduate jobs, he said, adding that policy makers must now concentrate on the demand side and promote vocational learning to balance the economy.
Professional bodies should support this process, he suggested, by becoming much more involved in providing careers advice to young people at an earlier stage.
Lord Young of Norwood Green conceded that whilst Labour had done a lot to improve aspiration in young people, the focus on university had damaged the reputation of other options.
“I don’t know how we got to that 50% target,” he admitted, “I think we just put a finger in the air.”
As the numbers of school leavers choosing university rocketed, Lord Young continued, “the vocational roles came to be perceived as a second class choice, which I regret very much.”
CIOB Senior Vice President, Paul Nash, also highlighted the importance of the role professional bodies could play in schools, but pointed to “changing teachers’ attitudes towards careers guidance” as one of the greatest challenges in achieving this.
Referring to the recent report by the CIOB,
The Value of Professionalism in the Built Environment, Mr Nash also raised concerns over parliaments’ view of their role.
The research, which surveyed 150 MPs, found that most did not consider professional bodies to be important in the policy making process.
Recognising this, Ms Hayes said there was a danger that they appeared to be lobbying on behalf of their industry, adding that it was vital to improve this false perception and create better relationships.
For Mr Nash: “The place to start is with dialogue. Professional bodies in the past have been too inward looking.”
It was vital, Mr Nash continued, that professional bodies collaborated more with each other and spoke with “one voice”.
The Chartered Management Institute’s Petra Wilton echoed this, but also suggested that there was already a lot of cooperation among professional bodies that went unreported by the media.
Ms Wilton went on to highlight another vital in which these organisations can and do support the UK economy, which was on building trust between businesses and customers.
Professional bodies were central, she said, in boosting “competence and confidence” among their members and maintaining high standards that the public could rely on.