From education to employment

Why we must help young people to close the skills gap

Angela Middleton is the founder of MiddletonMurray, a recruitment and training provider

As a trainer and recruiter, I meet thousands of young people looking for work every year. Whilst some young people have a clear idea about what they want to do, most don’t and they aren’t sure how to get a job or achieve life goals. More often than not the reason why young people struggle to secure work is not because of their academic background but because they aren’t aware of the soft skills required to succeed at an interview. In Britain today we are facing a skills crisis that must be addressed.

At MiddletonMurray, we find a lot of young people will say to us ‘I don’t mind what I do, I’ll do anything’ and that can be very confusing and difficult for an employer. An employer likes someone to come to them and be very clear about what it is they want to achieve and what value they can add to that employer. Via our traineeship programme, we work with young people and get them to a point where they can show the best of themselves and really shine at interview.

A recent article in The Times, which followed a group of young people embarking on Barclay’s ‘Life Skills’ programme brought the skills gap – the gap between the skills with which young people are equipped when they leave school, and those that are required for success in the workplace – to the forefront of the news agenda. Even some of the brightest pupils, who are headed off to top universities and predicted a clutch of A* grades were unsure of the nuances of interview etiquette. These skills are simply not taught in schools and, whilst they may seem obvious, to a young person who’s never had a job and is daunted by the prospect of an interview it’s vital that reassurance is provided. We often hear about the skills gap and it is very real. Young people in so many cases simply don’t have the soft skills required to get a job.

Schools and teachers do a terrific job in educating pupils in academic subjects but their emphasis is on grades and results, which leaves a big gap in educating pupils on the softer skills that fall out of the boundaries of the national curriculum. Grades are important but not every pupil is going to excel academically. For all young people, including those who are going on to A Levels or university, it’s crucial to help them transition into the working world and provide them with the right skills they need to showcase their best attributes to prospective employers.

As parents, teachers and employers we can’t assume all young people will understand life goals and grasp core soft skills through their own volition. Goal mapping and life skills need to be nurtured, especially for those that fall into the NEET category. Before there can be a career plan, there needs to be a life plan to help add structure, direction and understanding. Only then, can we help young people move forward. At MiddletonMurray we spend a lot of time in this area helping young people on our programmes produce their life plan. It’s only at this juncture that we go on to help inform them about how to present and project themselves from aspects such as how to dress for an interview to CV preparation, letter writing, projecting confidence, eye contact and handshaking.

Soft skills must be developed at an early age, but in order to do this, schools need to be given the funding and resources to provide employability programmes and source work placements for students. These are critical components of a careers advice service, and organisations like MiddletonMurray can provide huge levels of support to assist with this.

Forward thinking schools already provide this service but typically as an ‘add on’ due to financial pressures. There is also a great need for more employer incentives, which must be staged over a longer period of time to not just take on but to retain apprentices. There is no magic wand that any political party can wave to resolve the issue, but through our work as trainers and recruiters, we have proved that strategies such as these do work.

It’s also important for candidates to explore what I like to call the ‘hidden jobs market’. Approaching companies you want to work for but who aren’t necessarily proactively looking for new staff publicly is a soft skill in itself. You never know what is going on behind the scenes at a business – staff members might be about to resign, take a sabbatical, a position might be available but hasn’t been posted on the job boards as yet. Showing proactivity is often rewarded as it show candidates have the ability to take initiative but many job seekers need pointing in the right direction.

We regularly approach companies that we are interested in placing candidates with and undertake an analysis of their needs and their plans for the future. Most of the time, we uncover plans for growth and so can then go on to explain the expansion potential that can be unlocked through taking on an extra pair of hands. Once an employer realises this potential, they are open to the idea of taking on a new employee, and a job which was never advertised or even existed has been created.

Overall, in summary, the skills gap needs to be narrowed, and while organisations like ourselves can help to bridge this gap, we are a regional entity helping to do our part to resolve a national problem. Programmes like ours where goal mapping and skills training is provided, leading in to a real job need to be national.

Angela Middleton is the founder of MiddletonMurray, a recruitment and training provider

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