COLLEGES are churning out too many hairdressers and beauty therapists and not enough technicians, a North-East MP has warned.
Darlington MP Jenny Chapman said teenage girls were being tempted onto courses with lower long-term prospects – while local employers cried out for engineers.
The Labour MP attacked the funding system for further education and sixth form colleges, which offered no incentive to run science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses.
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And she said the problem was particularly acute in Darlington, despite students in the town performing “exceptionally well” in GCSE exams.
Ms Chapman said: “We train more hairdressers per head of population in Darlington than just about anywhere else in Britain.
“There is no incentive in the system for colleges to offer more STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and train more technicians.
“If we want them to do that, they will have to stop doing something else.
“Some of our colleges have invested heavily in training people in subjects such as hairdressing, beauty therapy, travel and tourism, but they are not leading people into the types of jobs that they hoped for.”
Ms Chapman, speaking during a Commons debate on vocational education, said the problem also flowed from a lack of good careers information and advice.
She called for “destinations data” – revealing how many students go on to work in different careers and their earnings – to be made available.
And she said: “I find it is easy to persuade 15-year-old girls to study hair and beauty, particularly when they are not getting any information, advice and guidance at school that is worth having.”
The MP said a recent study by Alan Milburn, the former Darlington MP and the Government’s ‘social mobility adviser’, found there were five hairdressers trained for every vacancy.
And she added: “Meanwhile, local companies are having to recruit engineers and technicians from far and wide, when we have Hitachi coming to Newton Aycliffe.”
Ms Chapman said one such firm was DeepOcean, a subsea trenching company which employs about 120 staff at its Coniscliffe Road headquarters and at Teesport.
Her criticisms won some backing from Saks, which runs hairdressing and beauty courses at its training academy in Darlington.
Tina Rook, its head of education, agreed school guidance advisors were too quick to look at maths and English marks and say ‘They’re not very good are they? Hairdressing or childcare for you’.
She added: “They get funnelled through to us in the belief that it’s a nice, easy option and in three months they’ve left because it’s not an easy option.”
However, Ms Rook dismissed the idea that there were too many hairdressers, saying: “There is a national shortage. In Saks alone there are 75 vacancies that I haven’t been able to fill for eight months.
“At the end of the day, you’ll never be out of work as a hairdresser - people always want their hair cutting.”
Darlington College Principal Tim Grant said: “We are very proud of our reputation for educating generations of hairdressers in this town, and we know they make a really important contribution to the local economy.
"Students studying hairdressing only make up less than three per cent of our student population of 2,500 with the others studying a range of course in subjects like science, engineering, construction, computing and business.
"As Jenny says, it is important we shine the spotlight on the curriculum in schools and colleges like ours to ensure young people in this town make the right choices and have the skills they need for their chosen career."
In reply to the debate, schools minister Elizabeth Truss said the Government was working hard to increase the number of apprenticeships in STEM subjects.
She told MPs: “Our Your Life campaign, which has been launched by industry and will go forward to students and young people this autumn, is all about encouraging more young people, particularly girls, to consider future careers in technology, engineering and business.”