From education to employment

How We Are Improving Employability in the UK

Baroness Brady is chair of the LifeSkills Advisory Council

How can we be sure that a young person has the skills businesses are looking for before they leave education?

Generally, as an employer, my first port of call when reviewing a CV will be a candidate’s previous experience.

But, for entry level positions, this often simply doesn’t exist.

This can leave employers in a difficult position: How do they know if a young person will be capable of doing the role?

LifeSkills created with Barclays conducted research with SMEs earlier this year which highlighted this issue. Employers are worried that young people lack a range of basic skills, including appropriate work behaviour. It found that almost two in four SMEs (43%) are worried about young people using their mobile phone while at work or taking too long breaks and nearly half (41%) are worried that their time management and punctuality skills aren’t up to the standard required.

Clearly there is a gap between what young people learn before they leave education and what employers are looking for. Young people seem to agree. The latest LifeSkills Youth Barometer found that over a quarter (28%) of 14-25 year olds believe there should be more support for teachers to teach the skills employers look for, such as basic communication and presentation skills.

This gap is why I became chair of the LifeSkills Advisory Council.

LifeSkills created with Barclays aims to work with education providers, young people, businesses and the Government to ensure that every young person has the skills they need to fulfil their potential.

Since launch, we’ve been talking to these groups about what’s needed to bridge the skills gap and bring down the number of unemployed young people.

There are currently nearly two million unemployed people in the UK and nearly half of these (730,000) are under 25. Our efforts to date have led to the creation of Improving Employability in the UK, LifeSkills Policy proposals 2014.

Together with stakeholders including the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), Education and Employers Taskforce (EET) and the Federation of Small Businesses, we have released three policy recommendations which we believe should be included in the curriculum. This will ensure that young people have a solid base in these skills before they leave key stage 4.

The recommendations state that a greater emphasis should be placed on helping prepare young people for work by providing the next generation with the necessary employability skills and opportunities to gain experience and understanding of the world of employment. This will embed the teaching of skills businesses need within the curriculum and equip young people with an understanding of the world of work and the different routes into employment such as apprenticeships as well as more academic paths.

The report also calls for a quality standard for work ready programmes to be established.

This will allow young people who have completed an approved programme to include it in their CV and potential employers will know they have a great level of basic knowledge and skills. This could make a dramatic impact on entry level hiring for businesses as they can be confident that young people will understand the world of work already.

Lord Young’s recent Enterprise for All report asked that well-structured engagement between Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and education providers should be placed at the centre of employability activity.

We support this recommendation but want to go further to ask for local co-ordination of activity to be complemented by additional support for teachers to deliver employability skills throughout the curriculum.

Teachers need better insight into the workplaces they are preparing young people for. They simply cannot be expected to understand work environments that they have never experienced directly so they need direct links with businesses.

I, and those supporting Improving Employability in the UK (including huge employers such as McDonalds and ISS), believe that these policy recommendations will prepare young people for work before they leave education and give businesses the entry level candidates they need to thrive and grow.

But, the launch of Improving Employability in the UK is just the start. Our hope is to now present it to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Unemployment as we strive to secure cross party support and, we hope, these policies’ inclusion in the three main parties’ manifestos.

There’s plenty of work left to do. We are encouraging more businesses, education providers and young people to sign up to LifeSkills and work together to improve the outlook for the next generation.

We can achieve a positive lasting change for all young people and ensure they are able to fully realise their potential.

Baroness Brady is chair of the LifeSkills Advisory Council, which was created by Barclays to equip one million young people with the skills they need to enter the world of work by 2015

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