Age and Vocational Training

A Guide for Providers of Vocational Training

What does 'vocational training' mean?

For the purposes of the regulations, the term 'vocational training' is more than just training provided by employers for their own employees. Vocational training should be taken to include a wide range of activities, including:

  • all types of training which would help fit a person for employment, including practical work experience;

  • all further, higher and other adult education (but not education of pupils in schools); and

  • vocational guidance.

To whom do the regulations apply?

The regulations will apply to vocational training providers across the statutory, private and voluntary sectors, regardless of whether they receive any public funding. Some of the regulations apply specifically to bodies that award qualifications.

Are all courses at Universities and Further Education Colleges covered by the regulations?

Yes, the UK Government has decided that all courses at Institutions of Further and Higher Education should be covered by the age regulations, whether they are specifically vocational or more general in nature. This is to ensure there is a unified approach to age-related practices and policies in relation to all such provision.

What does this mean for vocational training providers?

The intention of the regulations is to prohibit unjustified age discrimination. As such, they mean that providers will not ordinarily be able to set age limits or age-related criteria for 'vocational training' activities (as defined above); nor be able, generally, to set such age limits for associated benefits or conditions, such as help with travelling costs. However, the regulations do recognise that it could be justifiable, on an objective basis, to adopt some age-specific approaches to the delivery of vocational education or training provided they are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

What might be a legitimate aim?

As Article 6(1)(a) of the EU Employment Directive makes clear, the protection of vulnerable groups is a legitimate aim. The promotion of vocational integration is also a legitimate aim listed in the Directive. Special employment-related measures to integrate particular sections of the population into the workforce are common throughout the EU. For example, the UK Government supports apprenticeship programmes which are designed by employers to develop occupational competence and wider employability, and hence help to integrate into the workforce those who would otherwise lack the necessary skills. It could also be a legitimate aim for a particular institution or groups of institutions to increase participation in vocation education or training amongst particular age groups.

What does vocational integration mean?

The process of vocational integration should lead to an individual benefiting from educational opportunities, in order to become employable, and to achieve employment. Although the term "vocational integration" cannot be precisely defined, it relates to any action intended to help the transition of individuals from education or unemployment to work and their integration into the working world, or the movement of individuals between occupations. It should be remembered, however, that education of pupils in schools does not constitute vocational training within the meaning of the Directive.

What would be an objective justification?

A provider must establish that an age-specific approach can be objectively justified - that is, not only that it has a legitimate aim, but also that the approach is proportionate to achieving that aim. To do so, a provider will need to have supporting evidence. For example, a provider might take the view that a gap in participation or attainment within a certain age-group exists in their locality and that the adoption of a targeted approach to delivering education or training would be a proportionate way of reducing that gap. To support this view, the provider would need to have the evidence. To be proportionate the approach would need to be defensible as the minimum necessary means of narrowing the particular gap whilst limiting any potential disadvantage for groups outside the one being targeted. For further information on objective justification, please refer to pages 30 and 31 of the ACAS guidance. If you provide vocational training and currently set age limits or requirements, you will need to consider whether these are capable of being justified.

Positive action

There is also a provision in the regulations which allows for positive action to be taken in connection with access to vocational training, to compensate for disadvantages linked to age, for example, where particular age groups may be under-represented in particular occupations. Examples would include: giving people of a particular age supported access to vocational training; limiting access to a particular course to those in a particular age group; and advertising in media most accessed by the target group.

Positive action should not be confused with positive discrimination. A guarantee of work once the training is completed should never be offered or implied. For further information on positive action, please refer to page 29 of the ACAS guidance.

What about funding? Isn't that access?

Article 3.3 of the Directive clearly states that the Directive does not apply to payments of any kind made by state schemes. The power to make provision for support for students is set out in section 22 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998. The grants and loans for tuition fees and maintenance paid to students under the Education (Student Support) Regulations 2006 (which are made under section 22) are from public funds. Student support in the UK is therefore a "state scheme". As such funding falls outside scope of the Directive it is not covered by the age regulations. Maintenance loans for students affect maintenance during study, not admission to a course of study. They are not related to access and fall outside the scope of the Directive.

Bursaries and scholarships are also not covered, because they are incentives, as opposed to relating directly to access.

What about learning programmes supported by Government funding that has age limits?

Age limits set in relation to Government funding are outside the scope of the Directive, as explained above. However, any decision to deny access to a training course to people outside that age group would need to be objectively justified by the training provider.

What does this mean for a training provider?

What this means is illustrated by the following two examples:

  • Training Provider X runs an IT course which receives Government funding for participants under 25. The training provider only admits people within this age limit and refuses places to anybody 26 or over on grounds of their age. This would have to be objectively justified.

  • Training Provider Y also runs an IT course which receives Government funding for participants under 25, who are offered free/subsidised places. However, rather than denying access to people aged 26 or over, they instead require them to pay for their own place on the course. This would not need to be objectively justified.

For further information on objective justification, please refer to pages 30 and 31 of the Acas guidance.

Other things to consider

The following are just some of the issues vocational training providers will need to consider:

  • do you set a minimum or maximum age for entry generally or in relation to admission or access to particular courses or other relevant activities?

  • is age taken into account in any way when considering applications for admission or access, or associated benefits and conditions, eg. do you offer preferential fee discount arrangements based on age?

  • do you provide residential accommodation to students of all ages, or are students over or under certain ages not offered accommodation?

  • if so, can you objectively justify any age-related criteria?

  • what legitimate aim does any age-related criterion help you achieve, eg. have you clear evidence that demonstrates particular age groups would be excluded from your learning provision if they had to pay full fees?

  • are your age-related criteria a proportionate means of achieving that aim?
  • is there another way of achieving that aim without resorting to setting age limits?

All such matters need to be critically examined in the light of the Regulations.