Education is rarely out of the news, with changes to the way children and young people are taught and tested announced regularly.
Alongside this, businesses are paying even more attention to how prepared young people are when they finish school, college or university to enter the world of work, and the role education plays in preparing students for their futures.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC)’s Business and Education Survey of 3,500 business and education leaders found that two out of three companies believe secondary schools are ineffective at preparing young people for careers. The same survey revealed that 41 per cent believe universities are not preparing young people for employment.
The overall purpose of education is not a new debate, of course: is its aim to prepare young people for the future; to inspire intellectual thirst and encourage further learning; or a mixture of the two?
The BCC research and other findings published by business bodies such as the CBI, coupled with the fact that youth unemployment, at 13.6%, remains well over double the headline rate of 5.2%, suggests something needs to change in young people’s development. The key place to make these changes is within the education system.
When businesses say young people are not ready for work, they don’t mean they don’t have the specific job skills that can be learned as part of the role. They mean young recruits aren’t developed in the key skills required for work; such as communication, teamwork, resilience and problem-solving.
The CBI/Pearson survey of over 300 businesses found that attitudes and aptitudes were the most important factors employers weigh up when recruiting school and college leavers (85% and 58% respectively), ahead of formal qualifications.
The findings of the FSB’s survey of small firms backed this up, revealing that 41% wanted the new government to focus on improving the employability skills of young people. These attitudes and skills include confidence, communication, resilience, problem-solving and team work.
This all points to a skills gap between what employers need from new recruits and what young people themselves are proficient in. This skills gap is detrimental to business development, future youth unemployment rates and economic growth.
The BCC responded to the findings by calling for more businesses to work with schools in order to plug the skills gap and help young people move successfully into the world of work.
If these key skills are developed at school, this will benefit young people both as they progress through the education system and when they enter the world of work. Early intervention is important, as employability skills can’t just be developed through on the job training, but need to be embedded within learning from an early age.
Many schools and teachers are already doing this, in addition to delivering the exam results students need to prove academic prowess. What needs to come next is government support for teachers working to help their students to develop these skills. Extra curricular activities that offer experience of work and business such as Young Enterprise, the learning gained through PSHE lessons and more business engagement with schools are all ways this can be done.
We need a conclusive effort by the government to embed skills development, business engagement and experience of work into the education system. Statutory status for PSHE – which four of the most influential parliamentary committees have recently pushed for – would help drive this change and ensure consistency of provision across the country. Amending the Initial Teacher Training framework and CPD in schools to place a greater focus on character and employability skills must also be a priority.
Young people, too, need to be encouraged to record their extra-curriculum entrepreneurial activity so that they can reflect, learn and benefit from their experiences. The Government’s proposed Enterprise Passport – a digitally held record of young people’s achievements that employers would be able to access – will further help to maximise the impact and importance of employability skills.
Similarly, businesses themselves also have a role to play in tackling the skills gap. They can, for example, reassess their recruitment processes and look to hire young people based more on soft skills, and not just academic achievement. Indeed, some are already doing this, including Ernst and Young, which no longer has academic qualifications as part of its entry criteria.
The increasingly diverse labour market young people are entering, coupled with more economic challenges and increased global competition for jobs means it’s time to reassess our educational priorities, and ensure we’re giving young people the tools to succeed in the future.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Mercieca is CEO of Young Enterprise