From education to employment

£270m a year down the drain on failed recruitment – can technology help?

Learning technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years. An interactive whiteboard used to be as exciting as it got, but I recently read grandmothers in the UK are using Skype to teach school children thousands of miles away on the subcontinent.

Children in the Indian city of Pune are learning the story of “Not Now Bernard” thanks to The Granny Cloud project, the brainchild of Prof Sugata Mitra who’s best known for the hole-in-the-wall computer scheme.

It’s clear there’s huge appetite globally to use technology in innovative ways to learn. Yet closer to home there is work to be done – especially when it comes to using technology to prepare people for the world of work.

In fact, many businesses are struggling to get the staff they need and could be wasting up to £270 million a year on failed recruitment, as reported in FE News on 2 May. We have just released a report called Work ready? Get fit for the job which estimates around £1.16 billion is spent by employers each year trying to fill job vacancies, yet around 23 per cent of these posts are recognised as ‘hard to fill’ and often need additional resources to get the right candidate.

With the toughest employment conditions in 30 years it’s incredible money is being wasted finding the right people for vacancies – and jobseekers are still missing the mark when it comes to being ready for work. According to our research just one in ten jobseekers think workplace skills are important, but 88 per cent of employers say they are a top priority. Jobseekers also say they struggle to impress at interviews, a point not lost on employers, four in ten of whom say the majority of interviewees don’t impress. Surely as a sector we can make a few small steps using innovative technology to remedy this issue and get people into the right jobs while also cutting waste?

With that in mind we have put forward ten recommendations in our report which would improve people’s skills and help to smooth the recruitment process for employers and jobseekers while saving millions of pounds.

These include offering young people aged 16-19 an alternative to traditional classroom-taught maths and English, including the option to study these subjects online. For example, Functional Skills could easily be taught online and assessed online. We are also keen to ensure employers make greater use of online recruitment to drive down costs and to deliver a more efficient recruitment process. For example, online jobsites offer huge efficiencies. According to, public sector managers can save an average of 40 per cent on the total cost of hiring compared with the use of traditional methods.

We also believe it is vital that young people are better prepared for the workplace as well as better informed on education, training and employment options post-16. This could be achieved through use of technology to give virtual work experience to students so they get a wide taste of employment before embarking on a career.

However, we do understand that our recommendations may take time to realise. There’s no quick fix, which is why we’re also hitting towns across England this month  with a street theatre roadshow where we’ll be giving people a few hints and tips on how they can improve their job prospects.

But as a sector we need to do more. There is a need to harness the boom in technologies – mobile phones, the internet and social networking – to give people a new way to learn which meets their needs and reflects their IT savvy lifestyle.

People are already using smartphones to manage their lives – the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) says 45 per cent of the population now own such a device. We also know people like the flexibility smartphones and other mobile devices provide for learning – where they are not restricted by location, term time or time of day.

Technology has the potential to transform the jobseeking and vacancy matching process in the same way learning is being transformed.  This would realise benefits for jobseekers, employers and ultimately the state in terms of reducing the welfare bill. We urge you to think about the role you can play to ensure jobseekers get the skills employers need in the future. And by doing so, perhaps as well as reading about grannies teaching the children of India, we’ll see news stories about UK unemployment figures going down.

Sarah Jones is chief executive of learndirect, the nationwide e-teaching organisation

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