From education to employment

Simon Bartley on the role businesses should play in shaping the skills of young people

With the launch of the Government’s Skills for Growth strategy this month, I, like many, was interested to read the reaction to the long awaited paper, in particular from the FE Sector

We are all aware of the urgent need to reverse the current perception of vocational qualifications that currently exists, if we are to successfully place skills at the heart of the plan for economic recovery. But with recent figures showing that the number of 16-24 year olds in unemployment continuing to rise, would the paper successfully address the need to engage this age group?

Commenting on the paper, the chief executive of the Association of Colleges, Martin Doel, highlighted the broad direction of travel in this strategy as welcoming and in particular highlighted “the importance it attaches to high-level vocational education and training as an essential element in a vibrant and successful economy”. And whilst the paper acknowledges that it will reward those colleges that respond to the challenges, and cut back funding of those courses that fail, what can’t happen is a repetition of the mistakes made in the past where people have been excluded from the system simply because they do not possess the basic skills that are expected by society.

In addition to this, is the estimation from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills that in the next ten years we will need more than 650,000 people who are skilled at the intermediate technician, associate professional and skilled occupation levels. As Kevin Brennan, Minister for Further Education, Apprenticeships, Skills and Consumer Affairs said this amounts to nothing less than the creation of a “new technical class”. For this to become a reality, education and training providers must understand what skills businesses require their employees to possess. And the only way this can happen is for both parties to converse on a regular basis. This starts with developing a joint vocabulary. For too long, further and higher education and business have been speaking a different language and operating as silos. This has created a barrier, preventing best practise and requirements to be shared, resulting in a widening skills gap.

Industry is vital to the development of skills and businesses must play an increasingly interactive role in shaping training courses and educational content. At UK Skills, we are already seeing the valuable contribution that organisations can contribute to the progression of young people. Our training managers, who come from a variety of different business backgrounds, work closely with those individuals who are in training to represent Team UK at an international level. Through their understanding of what their industry is demanding from new recruits, our training managers can impart their knowledge to not only help the competitors achieve success in their chosen skill competition but also better prepare them for the world of work, making them more employable in their eyes of recruiters. One example of this is Richard Sagar, who won Gold at WorldSkills Calgary 2009 in Electrical Installation. Following the extensive training he undertook with David Thomas from the Electrical Contractors’ Association, Richard said: “I would like to think I can use the extra skills and abilities learnt to help facilitate a move into senior management, with my employer.”

From reading Skills fro Growth, it certainly addresses all the main concerns that existed between educational establishments, training providers and businesses. Could this strategy mark the start of us as a country rising to the skills challenge? I certainly hope so.

Simon Bartley is chief executive of UK Skills, which champions learning through competitions and awards

Read other FE News articles by Simon Bartley:

Your country needs you!

UK Skills CEO reflects on Britain’s progress in Calgary 2009

UK Skills CEO tells FE News how skills competitions benefit education in the current climate

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