From education to employment

Fostering links with local businesses with the Careers and Enterprise Company

Ruth Gilbert is chief executive of the Career Colleges Trust

I have followed the development of the Careers and Enterprise Company with interest and am pleased to see it finally kicking off, following the official announcement last Christmas.

The Government has rightly identified that giving young people access to industry and developing their employability skills is fundamental to reducing youth unemployment.

The Careers and Enterprise Company has been developed by the DfE and put in the hands of the LEPs. Backed by careers organisations and crucially, employers of all sizes, the aim of the Career and Enterprise Company is to bridge the gap between education and work.

This is the right approach and indeed, something I have been talking about for some time. By working in partnership with schools and other education providers, employers are able to influence and shape the aspirations of their future workforce. This is vital in order to secure the skills businesses need expand and flourish.

However, there appears to be a distinct lack of clarity about how the leads of the Careers and Enterprise Company will operate locally, via LEPs. How will it interface with businesses? Will it be a broker to employers for example?

There are of course, real benefits to operating on a local level. Skills needs vary hugely around the country and young people must be made aware of the real job and career opportunities available in their area.

But to be a truly effective initiative, I believe that there needs to be a manifesto set out for young people. Employers need to pledge practical support, making it clear what is on offer and how their involvement will bolster career prospects for the next generation.

Employer engagement is discussed a lot and you’d be hard pushed to find someone – teachers, parents, students – who doesn’t think it is a great idea.

For employers themselves though, as much as they support the idea and can see benefits, there may be concerns over perceived practical difficulties. For SMEs and micro-businesses, the day-to-day running of their business has to come first and I appreciate their nervousness about making large-scale commitments to education.
Some employers to whom I have spoken say they simply don’t have the resource to, for example, supervise a young person for a week or indeed, the time to sit on a college board.

However, my hope is that the Careers and Enterprise Company, like the Career Colleges Trust, will help businesses of all sizes to see that ‘engagement’ can happen at a number of levels. Any sort of employer interaction with young people is hugely beneficial to both parties – whatever the activity or frequency of it.

Experience of Work is an important stepping stone to full work experience. The value to young people is immense and there is little or no burden on employers.
For example, visiting a workplace for a half day or indeed a few hours gives students an immediate insight to what a business or industry is about.

Alternatively, an employer could spend a couple of hours delivering a masterclass to a group of students or setting a live project brief. Such activities make learning relevant and encourage the development of the much talked about ’employability skills’.

Many young people struggle to identify a career path for themselves purely because they are unaware of the opportunities out there. Meeting an employer face to face and spending a few hours with them can be all it takes to inspire them.

I very much hope that the Careers and Enterprise Company fosters links with local businesses and encourages engagement with schools and colleges on all levels, to suit the business.

Our seven Career Colleges around the country are doing just this. Many 14-19 year olds are benefiting from genuine employer-engagement experiences, which are preparing them for the real world of work and inspiring them to achieve career success.

Ruth Gilbert is chief executive of the Career Colleges Trust

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