Bridging the gap between students and employment

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The standard of school careers advice is once again under scrutiny.

The recently published British Chamber of Commerce Workforce Survey found that an alarming 88% of businesses think that school leavers today are unprepared for the workplace. And only this week, Sir Michael Wilshaw spoke of the “disaster” that only six per cent of young people nationwide were going into apprenticeships, stating that serious questions need to be asked about whether students are receiving guidance on the entire range of post-16 work options.

A fairly obvious observation is that the connection between education establishments and businesses needs to be more robust to adequately prepare young people for their future work. So why has it been so lacking until now?

“Education policy over the past couple of decades has been very much results driven and focused on exams,” says Marcus Mason, Head of Business, Education and Skills at the British Chamber of Commerce. “Of course these things are important, but such a narrow set of targets has led to a real blind spot in terms of how effectively schools collaborate with business and prepare students for work. They haven’t been judged on how they develop character, necessary resilience and soft skills such as communication which are vital in the working world.” While this isn’t about pointing the finger, the chamber emphasises the joint responsibility all institutions have to prepare a new generation of employees for their career.

The BCC has made a number of recommendations based on its 2014/2015 business manifesto to bridge the gap between education and employment. This begins with the launch of 250 career events across England, in collaboration with local chambers of commerce, with the aim to reach more than 70,000 students. The events, of which 40 will be large scale, are part of a broader plan to link educational institutions to businesses, with more events and membership opportunities being developed.

“Thankfully we’re beginning to see a shift towards a more collaborative, employment focused way of thinking, so it’s a good time to begin these kinds of events. Education and employment establishments have often been at odds. We’re creating more opportunities for partnership, to enable mutual understanding of the roles of each to help better equip young people for work.”

Marcus, who prior to joining the BCC set up The Creative Society employment charity, also identifies the fast development of creative industries over recent years, and the lack of awareness of apprenticeship options as area where careers advice isn’t always fit for purpose. “The pathways into the jobs of the future aren’t always clear, so there needs to be more connections made in these areas. As well as that, people still see apprenticeships as mostly focused on trade roles. Arming young people with knowledge and challenging those preconceptions opens more doors, in fact accountancy is one area where we’ve seen a big rise in the number of people taking up apprenticeships.”

By actively bringing together education and business institutions and moving away from a culture of blame and responsibility shifting, young people can benefit from a more rounded learning environment, one that teaches them more about themselves and their skills, and provides a chance to make early connections with future employers.

Kayleigh Ziolo is a freelance journalist and writer based in Ireland.

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