We return to the topic of school leaver employability with Unifrog Area Manager - Matt Jones - giving his two pence on how the system needs to change to make sure school leavers have the skills they need to get a job.
Developing more employable school leavers
Whether the education system is doing enough for school leavers to be successful in employment is a debate which has rattled on for some time now. Many are firmly of the opinion schools are more concerned with ‘exam results’ than providing an education that better prepares school to thrive in the workplace.
This school of thought has gathered much support from the business sector with many businesses reporting a lack of work experience and an apparent absence of vital ‘soft skills’. In particular, a recent report from the British Chamber of Commerce highlighted the absence of these two vital components in school leavers.
So rather than pointing the finger at one another, what can we do collectively - government, education system and businesses do to develop more employable school leavers? I’m sure all three respective branches above would accept they could all do more to improve school leavers employability and key skills.
The British Chamber of Commerce recently put forward several recommendations to tackle this issue, including;
- Stronger links between educators and businesses
- Work experience made compulsory in all secondary schools
- A greater emphasis on employment outcomes of pupils rather than just exams
These three recommendations are largely accepted as the three most important factors in developing school leavers employability.
Stronger links between educators and business
Engagement with secondary schools must be a clear priority for employers if they are to develop more employable skills in school leavers. Recent research by the Confederation of British Industry found that 67% of employers had already established links with secondary schools. This is over a third of employers stepping up their commitments in increasing school engagement within the last year.
Whilst many employers will offer work experience for secondary school leavers, many are going above and beyond this in supporting careers advice and providing school governors. This approach needs to be adopted by more of the larger organisations, perhaps as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility.
Work experience made compulsory in all secondary schools
The coalition government scrapped compulsory work experience in schools back in 2012, which was seen by many as a ‘backwards step’ to making school leavers more employable. It is safe to say business leaders, including the British Chamber of Commerce; are firmly of the opinion that work experience is vital for equipping young people with the skills they need.
The British Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly called for business to offer more work placements for students in order to close the skills gap missing in school leavers today. The former Director General Mr John Longworth said that compulsory work experience was crucial:
“to ensure that every school pupil has the chance to feel the energy, dynamism, buzz and challenge of the workplace for themselves. Work experience is crucial to bringing down our stubbornly high youth unemployment rate. It will help ensure more young people are prepared for work. It will help close the yawning skills gaps reported by frustrated businesses across the UK, who face huge difficulty filling vacancies at every level".
There can be no denying the benefits students receive from undertaking work experience, whether it is with the largest organisations or smaller businesses. The vital skills in which they will develop are vital to them building prosperous careers. Work experience placements should be regarded as a means of achieving learning outcomes. There are five main curriculum areas which work experience can benefit;
- Developing students’ employability and key skills;
- Vocational courses;
- Personal and social education;
- Careers education and guidance;
- National Curriculum and other subjects.
A greater emphasis on employment outcomes of pupils rather than just exams
Many scholars and business leaders are of the opinion too much emphasis is on exam results rather than employment outcomes. The term ‘exam factories’ has been thrown around over the last decade as many believe schools are just concerned with exam results rather than the destination or employment outcome of their students.
In a recent research project conducted by the Career Colleges Trust they found that students overwhelmingly thought they were just being prepared to pass exams rather than develop a career or prepare for the workplace.
This research underlines the huge skills gap which industries are facing, according to Lord Baker ‘founder of the Career Colleges Trust’. He goes on to state;
‘If young people themselves are not feeling prepared for work, employers will continue to struggle with the recruitment issues that have become such a challenge for UK industry’.
Of course school leavers need numeracy and literacy skills to excel in the world of work, however, they also need to equip themselves with practical, technical and employability skills. If we were to take a step away from the so called ‘exam factories’ and embed more employability skills into school curriculum; it would give students a chance to develop vital soft skills, gain an insight into real work and better prepare them for the workplace.
This would take strides in closing the skills gap which employers have highlighted over recent years. Fundamentally, this is what students want, to become more employable and further what industries need.
The task of developing more employable school leavers is not a simple one to address, it requires closer links between businesses and schools, with all three branches (government, education sector and businesses) working together to place a greater emphasis on work experience and the development of soft skills in school curriculums.
By focusing on the three highlighted areas above, we should feel confident in developing more employable students and closing the skills gap which has become ever more apparent over the last decade.