When you started your first job, did you arrive on time on your first day? Did you come dressed in the right clothing, show willingness to help with any and every task, ask questions when they were necessary and take advice even if you privately disagreed? You might think such behaviour would be obvious, but plenty of employers say that today’s young people don’t have a clue what to expect when they join the working world.
According to an OECD study published last week, there is a shrinking talent pool of skilled young people entering the UK workforce, while British young adults trail behind their international peers on numeracy and literacy. It should serve as a timely warning to politicians and policy-makers alike, but it should worry us all. If we are competing in a global race, we are currently some way behind the chasing pack.
Out of more than 1,000 British employers questioned in a survey for City & Guilds published today, 60 per cent said that young applicants are arriving for interviews lacking the necessary skills for the job – something that I’ve heard anecdotally, time and again. Given that, is it really so astounding that almost a third of employers are considering looking abroad to bolster their workforce?
But all is not lost. As chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority, I saw first-hand how Britain can rise to the challenge and compete with our foreign neighbours. But our architects and engineers did not design and build fantastic buildings and our athletes did not win medals without the willingness to push for better. The same must be true for our education system.
In particular, we need a greater focus on three vital areas. First, we need to see much greater involvement from employers in curriculum design. The emergence of University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools has been a huge boost to the status of technical education. But they are able to cater to only a tiny proportion of young people.
I doubt we will ever see UTCs as a complete alternative. So, we must raise the amount of vocational training in every school as early as possible in a young person’s education. And, this must be built on the foundation of strong numeracy and literacy skills. These pathways need to be designed and supported by a national network of employers. We need to encourage schools and business to work together to create a stimulating, creative, and challenging curriculum that stretches young people and prepares them for life outside the classroom.
Second, how can young people know what to expect from work if they’ve never had any exposure to it? By the time I was 17, I had worked as a butcher’s boy, at a Naval Dockyard, and at Tesco stocking shelves. All of these jobs taught me something about not only the world of work, but about myself. At 17, I had my first job in construction which started my career in the industry. My employer took a chance on me and had faith in my ability to learn – which I did through a mix of on the job experience and technical training. This has served as a foundation for my career.
Eighty per cent of employers believe work experience is essential. I certainly agree. The young people I speak to want this too – they know it will help them in the long-term. We need to see greater focus on ensuring that young people have access to high quality work placements as part of their formal education. A national standard that provides clear guidelines for employers and schools shouldn’t be beyond our grasp.
Finally, we need to expand young people’s horizons from a much earlier age – tell them that they can be engineers, or inventors, or doctors, and show them how to get there. In a 2012 City & Guilds survey, 3,000 seven to 18 year olds told us that they want to learn about the world of work in primary school. A year on, we know that is still not happening on a national scale.
Work experience, along with more done in the classroom to raise awareness of the opportunities available, is crucial if we are to have an education and skills system that meets the needs of every young person and every business. By establishing strong local partnerships, schools and employers can respond to this challenge.
Together, these core reforms can help us equip young people with what they need to forge the high skilled workforce of the future that our businesses and our economy demands. The challenge is clear for everyone responsible for policy making, and the rewards for continued global competitiveness are clear.
There are plenty of young people who know exactly what to expect from work, and who will get on regardless of the curriculum or what their teachers tell them. But they are the lucky ones. Too many of our young people are losing out. It’s time for that to change.
Sir John Armitt is Chairman of City & Guilds, and he oversaw the construction of the Olympic Park in London as chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority.Tags: Education, Employment, Global race, Skills, training, Youth