From education to employment

College students get work experience as real as any flight simulator

The sales floor is always buzzing at 8:30am and the 13th April is no exception.

On this day are four new faces from South Essex College who will be joining the recruitment consultants at Morgan Hunt for some ‘on the job’ experience. They have no concept of what to expect and no other office experience to draw from.

Further Education has been under pressure from critics as not having an educational curriculum relevant to the labour market and holding accountability for progression into job or further study. For decades since the demise of the old apprenticeship schemes that lost out in the stampede for university places, employers have tended to shun school leavers or those leaving further education without good degrees. But employers now need to take greater ownership of occupational standards with more direct involvement rather than through intermediaries.

The students; asked to report in business attire with their ID badges, no mobile phones and their best and most impeccable telephone manner; after brief introductions, will be representing Morgan Hunt doing work experience as real as any flight simulator.

Getting the job done: The Government’s reform plan for vocational qualifications, goes someway into recognising and addressing the issues, yet falls short on how to engage employers and why employers should take greater ownership of what’s happening in their local further education college.

Suggestions for funding only the highest quality qualifications valued by employers is not the answer, yet supporting learning that leads to job outcomes is an entirely different paradigm that could lead to FE funding and more 14 – 19 year olds getting a bite of the education cherry. On this transatlantic education flight employers also need to take more accountability. Too many expect their cake and eat it; expectations are great, with a low investment approach to staff and a ‘someone else’s problem’ attitude.

The fresh faced, straight out of the pod students were given the option to do consultant work. None were trained in any type of business etiquette. A recruitment consultant will typically spend up to 8 hours a day on the phone working from 8:30am to 6:00pm on an average day. The job is challenging and the students did not know what to expect; “I was scared to start with but started making phone calls to candidates to see how well they matched job roles and I got more confident as the week progressed’ said student Josh.

Student Georgia worked in reception “I was shocked to see how much they actually do… having the whole dashboard, finding the one name within seconds when you can’t always hear what the caller is saying is very difficult”. If you think that a busy switchboard might be easy then the ‘CEO switchboard challenge’ might be a good one to promote for charity…any takers?

The key point about both these jobs is that none of the students had any previous conceptions of the work environment, the work itself, the skills or the competencies required and there is no qualification that will trump the experience of the real live cockpit.

The learning outcomes were agreed by all students; the importance of communication, teamwork, travel into London, working in an incentivised environment and confidence – none of which FE colleges would get funding on or indeed a ‘kite-mark’ of quality learning.

Of their overall experience they were surprised that a company would offer them the full pilot experience, the welcome that they received, the reward and recognition atmosphere that they became part of. They said that they would consider a career in recruitment, but this is not the main point to greater employer ownership and direct involvement; employers must learn that this exercise is more about the joy of giving and less about the performance measure of taking. Whatever these young students do in the future they will never forget their first experience of real career work.

In future the Government has said that only high value vocational qualifications will be recognised in performance tables for 14-16 year olds and 16-19 year olds and that to be included qualifications have to demonstrate and provide evidence that they are rigorous and support progression into further study or employment. But without employer engagement it’s unlikely to have the teeth that Further Education needs to get off the runway.

Chris Wimshurst is education director at Morgan Hunt, which works in partnership with the FE sector, offering consultancy around recruitment solutions from lecturers to principal level

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