From education to employment

Young people view links to employers as the key to their career success

Of all of the challenges our country faces, the number of unemployed young people will cause the most long-term damage.  Unemployment has been rising steadily over the past few years and alarmingly almost a quarter (22.2%) of 16-24 year olds are out of work.

The good news is that there is a tremendous amount of energy and goodwill within Government, as well as in the education sector and industry more broadly, to reverse this trend.  The £1bn Youth Contract was launched in April this year, there is a renewed focus on apprenticeships, and business bodies like the CBI are launching initiatives aimed at tackling the crisis.

Whilst we acknowledge and welcome all solutions, we at City & Guilds feel there needs to be a more cohesive strategy across Government that really gets to the heart of the issue and, crucially, is geared towards supporting young people.

Particularly, we believe bringing the voice of young people into the debate will help create better informed, long-term solutions. This is why in February this year, City & Guilds commissioned the first comprehensive study of young people’s views around education and employment since the current economic crisis began.

Our Report, Ways into Work: Views of children and young people on education and employment, provides some fascinating insights from over 3,000 7-18 year olds on their hopes and aspirations and experiences so far of the education and training system.

Reading the Report, four key themes emerge where big improvements must be made, and soon, if we are to give young people the chance to succeed in life and save them from the scrapheap of rising unemployment:

  • There needs to be more emphasis on the practical application of Maths and English in schools, to ensure young people have the skills employers need. It has been proven time and again that numeracy skills have a positive impact on our chances of success in life and our research says young people know this also. However, 14 -18 year olds, particularly girls, find classroom Maths boring, difficult or irrelevant and 54% of 16-18 year olds, unprompted, commented that Maths should be more geared towards practical scenarios. Employers also voice frustration at the failure of the national curriculum to sufficiently address numeracy and literacy in schools. This tells us that we need to urgently revise the way we think about Maths in order to better engage young people and give employers the skills they need to drive economic growth.

  • There needs to be better access to careers advice and guidance from a young age. Almost nine in ten 16-18 year olds we asked, said that a visit to an employer was extremely useful to them, yet only a quarter of learners have been given this opportunity. Careers guidance needs to be taken seriously and employers and careers advisors, not teachers, are the right people to be informing our young people about their career choices.

  • Unstructured work experience is letting young people down. When work experience is done well, it can be an inspiring introduction to the world of work.  However, only a minority (33%) of young people we spoke with consider work experience to be part of their plan to get their dream job, citing poorly organised placements as a key reason for their disillusionment. This situation benefits neither young people nor employers, who increasingly tell us they value meaningful work experience above good grades when considering potential employees.

  • Enterprise and entrepreneurship needs to be nurtured and taught in schools. It is fantastic to see that almost half (49%) of 16 – 18 year olds would one day like to run their own business. These kinds of aspirations will help drive this country’s economic recovery so they must be encouraged and supported.

Above all, the findings point to the need for better links between education and employment at every level. We now need to act on this knowledge and take action to make sure more young people don’t slip through the system.

Working Together to Get Young People Working

On Tuesday 1 May, armed with the insights from our report, City & Guilds called for an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to bring together key stakeholders across education, business and the Government with a particular remit to investigate and make recommendations on: careers guidance, apprenticeships for young people, entrepreneurship and work experience. We believe that as the UK’s leading vocational awarding organisation, we are well equipped to lead this work, which will seek to get to grips with the root causes of youth unemployment.

I see the APPG working to tackle youth employment in a number of ways. First, we will work to develop careers guidance that is fit for purpose, engages young people and leads to better employment outcomes. In addition, we will consider the reasons behind the decline in the number of young people (16-19) taking apprenticeships and ways to encourage greater participation. Consideration will also be given to the type of support Government should offer to enable young people to set up in business on their own as entrepreneurs.

Creating better links between education and employment means more direct engagement with employers as part of the National Curriculum review; greater emphasis on enterprise and entrepreneurial skills; and most importantly a structured work experience programme that, unlike Alison Wolf’s recommendation, is not left to schools to develop and deliver but is implemented system-wide and begins as early as possible including those pre-16.

We must take action now to work to ensure young people get the advice, experience and teaching they deserve. Politicians, employers, policy makers and sector leaders must start working together to get young people working.

Chris Jones is chief executive and director general of City & Guilds, the awarding body

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