From education to employment

From education to employment, so near and yet so far

Kirstie Donnelly is UK managing director of City & Guilds Group

Last week I hosted a panel debate at the AOC to discuss how to rebuild the bridge between education and employment. The panel of leading employers and educators unanimously agreed our education system has lost its vital connection to employers, and it’s time for change.

As policy-makers continue to champion academic pathways above all else, young people are leaving education without the skills required for the workplace or any real understanding about the world of work. And, with skills shortages increasing in many sectors, there has never been a more critical time to ensure young people are prepared for the world of work.

We need to start listening to the experts on how to bridge the gap between education and employment:

Colleges need to develop stronger relationships with national and local employers. William Akerman, Founder of MyKindaCrowd, explains: “Colleges should be equipped with the means to build a network of relevant industry contacts, who are able to support their college and students. This will ensure that students are equipped with work-ready skills, employers have a pipeline of relevant and local future employees, and the UK can close the ever-widening skills gap in key industries.”

The STEM education system must innovate to be ready for an increasingly technical world. Dr Sarah Peers, Director of Programmes at the National Engineering Foundation, believes: “Traditional STEM education models are becoming less relevant as companies increasingly seek workers and leaders with interoperable skills, creativity and innovation, who can move easily between different sectors and scientific disciplines.

“A transformation of education is needed to prepare people for an increasingly technical and exciting future. Transformations such as an education environment reflecting the real world, new systems of assessment and colleges that lead innovative teaching and learning.”

Personally, I believe we can’t afford to ignore a business visionary like Sir Richard Branson when he warns: “There are jobs that don’t exist today that we need to try and prepare the younger generation for. This can’t happen if we lag behind on the skills that are required. We need to look to the future and anticipate the skills level that will be needed not just tomorrow but in five, 10 and even 20 years’ time.”

Qualifications must better equip young people for the workplace. 65% of employers believe today’s qualifications don’t adequately prepare young people for the world of work. This is why City and Guilds has recently expanded its offer for 14-19 year olds with the launch of the TechBac. Designed with industry and experts from the education and skills sector, the TechBac is a new curriculum that provides learners with a professional pathway to their chosen career alongside the technical qualifications and personal skills they need to progress in work.

Gill Scott, Admissions and Employability Director for LCBT, believes it’s important the education experience reflects the working environment as closely as possible. She explains: “We don’t have long holidays in between terms and learners have to work evenings and weekends so they get a realistic impression of working life. We also have daily talks from industry experts to give students a window into their chosen career.”

Dr Sarah Peers adds: “We need to prepare young people for industry, for life, for real opportunities and a sometimes unknown future, and not just for exams.”

FE providers should think strategically about the skills needed for the future. Chris Wood, Vice President of Preston’s College, believes: “Colleges need to have their own game plan. Not for Ofsted, but for their learners. If you have a strategic plan and the determination to deliver it for the good of learners, then Ofsted will be receptive. As colleges, we need to work with Ofsted to recognise collectively that we can no longer operate in a one dimensional way.”

Awarding bodies must listen to the needs of employers. “Employers don’t want qualifications. They want skills. Focus on skills first and then qualifications. Skills like teamwork, negotiation and effective communication are classed as ‘soft skills’ but this is wrong as they are vital for success at work. If we are to succeed in bridging the gap, ‘hard wiring’ our new learning generation with these ‘soft skills’ is essential”, explains Chris Wood.

To help us make sure the UK education system is more closely aligned with the needs of business, we’ve just launched our own Industry Skills Board, made up of a range of industry employers and representative organisations.

The board, which met for the first time this month and is chaired by Andy Smyth of TUI Travel UK & Ireland, will advise us to ensure our qualifications, services and programmes meet the needs of employers and support the transition from full-time education to work.

It will also ensure the right reforms in apprenticeships, make sure the education system supports more than one choice for young people, and advise Government on the future direction of our education system.

Support like this from the business community is vital if the skills shortage message is to be heard, and the UK’s education system is to change.

I was happy to see Sir Richard Branson bringing the digital skills shortage to the fore again in a recent interview in The Guardian entitled ‘Too many students were told to go to university‘. He cited more effective vocational training and more choice for young people once they’ve completed their GCSE’s as fundamental to solving the skills crisis. It’s this kind of support which spurs us on.

We wholeheartedly believe there is a need for more effective professional and technical training and more choice for young people. And will continue to focus on helping young people to develop the skills that allow people to progress into a job, on the job, and onto the next job.

Kirstie Donnelly is UK managing director of City & Guilds Group, a global leader in skills development

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