Qualification searches rise in the wake of the pandemic


2020 was certainly a year with resonance. Its main event - the Covid-19 pandemic - has impacted all of our lives in a multitude of ways. For some, this has meant thinking more about their careers. 


The scale of the increase

A look at the backend search statistics from findcourses.co.uk shows the degree to which qualification searches have risen. One of the largest searches has been for qualifications that lead to an obvious career path or are highly specialised - for example; BTEC qualifications. 


There was a quite incredible 1280% rise in BTEC searches between February 2020 and February 2021 compared to the previous year. There was also a smaller, but still significant, 441% spike in BTEC National Diploma qualifications over this same period. 

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The way that people visited and searched on findcoures.co.uk also saw changes. Throughout 2020, mobile and desktop sessions rose - with a 191% increase in mobile sessions and a 147% increase in desktop sessions.


The People Behind the Increases


A key part of unpacking these qualification searches is looking at the demographics behind them. 


During 2020, there was a 7% increase in searches for college courses amongst the 18-24 demographic, which will likely mostly comprise school leavers and recent graduates, compared to 2019. 

Interestingly, sessions amongst the largest age bracket for college course searches on findcourses.co.uk, 25-34, remained the same, at 33% of all total sessions. BTEC and Access qualifications remained the most popular search options. 


chart showing qualifications trends findcourses.co.uk


A particularly interesting trend is the increase in qualification searches amongst people aged 45-54. This perhaps suggests that those with established careers might be seeking to upskill or change careers entirely in the wake of the pandemic. 


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Britain’s Skills Crisis


In the UK, the pandemic has hit the hospitality, entertainment and non-food retail sectors particularly hard. Three lockdowns and tiered restrictions have taken a sizable toll across these sectors. 


An illuminating report from the Institute for Employment Studies, suggests that workers in these sectors tend to be on lower pay - less than £9.50 an hour across most of the UK outside of London - and have less job security than workers in other sectors. The report estimates that roughly two-thirds of all lower-paid workers have had their hours and incomes directly affected by the pandemic. 


But the pandemic is not the direct cause of this hit. It is a symptom of a deeper problem.


According to the RSA (Royal Society for Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce), the UK labour market lacks key skills. Jobs and sectors that were once seen as being strong and stable have now been deemed ‘unviable’ by the Treasury. In short; millions of UK workers now need to upskill. The pandemic has only exacerbated the need for this. 


Wanting a Change


With the pandemic pushing people to reskill and upskill now rather than later, findcourses.co.uk’s statistics are reflective of this gear change. But how can this surge in interest and searches translate into tangible benefits - both for learners and providers?


The fact that so many people searched for BTEC and Access courses suggests that potential learners want qualifications that lead to specific career outcomes. For example; a BTEC Health and Social Care course that can lead to a BSc Nursing degree. 


After all, according to our own research here at findcourses.co.uk, 83% of those who are actively looking to change careers are aware that they will require at least some level of reeducation in order to do this. But, crucially, 35% of respondents were unsure just how much education they would need. 


Thinking Ahead


With about a third of students unsure of their next educational steps, providers need to be ready to assist. BTEC and Access courses are a great way of boosting learning and helping to facilitate a career change. But learners need to be sure about what their end goal is and what their expected outcomes are from any courses that they might undertake.


Careers advice has always been important for those looking to return to education. With qualification searches so sharply up, this is more important than ever before. Actively guiding students through the process of choosing the qualification that best fits them, their goals and their needs. 


Want to find out more? Download the full report

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Luke Sandford

Luke Sandford is a digital content editor at Keystone Education Group. Currently based in Stockholm, he is originally from the UK. He holds a BA from Goldsmiths, University of Lund and an MA from Lund University. He has since written for several outlets and has worked as an English teacher, both at home and abroad. Luke's passion for travelling and experiencing new cultures directly impacts his work as he seeks to create engaging, informative and useful content for a wide range of audiences.