Alice Barnard, Chief Executive of Edge

With the festive season in mind, I recently read that for each of the world’s two billion children to receive one toy at Christmas, Santa’s elves would need to produce four toys per hour, 16 hours a day, 364 days a year and it would require a work force of around 85,851.

This is more than the Virgin Group in the whole of the UK. More than the John Lewis partnership across its 51 shops, 349 Waitrose supermarkets, online business and its own farm.

Hopefully Santa’s elves enjoy the same employee benefits as John Lewis’s partners, but my issue here is not about good employment practice, but one of recruitment.

A job in Santa’s extensive workshop would require key workplace skills; efficiency, team-working, resilience and ambition, alongside the critical creative skills and technical competency needed to make the toys.

The point being that even if being an elf is not an essential part of the selection criteria, finding candidates who might meet the profile would still be a challenge in our employment landscape. There are currently 600,000 vacancies in tech and digital, putting Santa’s recruitment programme into perspective!

Edge’s recent Skills Shortages Bulletin focused on the creative industries, a sector which is growing at twice the rate of the rest of the economy and generating around £92 billion a year. As we all know, the rapid technological change driven by the fourth Industrial Revolution is likely to lead to widespread automation in many industries.

If we want our children to stay one step of the robots then they will need not only those digital and technical skills, but crucially they will need to be creative and innovative and resourceful.

This is where our curriculum is sadly letting our children down. In the drive to meet government targets, exam grades, Progress 8 and other arbitrary measures unsubstantiated by any evidence that they give a coherent assessment of students’ abilities or aptitude, creative and technical subjects are being driven off the curriculum.

The stats are worth repeating. A fall of 57% in entries to Design and Technology GCSE and a reduction of 20% in entries in creative subjects. In the last two years, the number of students studying computer-based subject has fallen by 17,000.

Just as alarming as the government’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge that its tenacious adherence to a 1904 curriculum is strangling the talent pipeline for one our most productive and globally successful parts of the economy, is the recognition amongst young people that they do not feel prepared for the 21st century workplace.

Our report also features the results of Youth Employment UK’s annual survey in which 1,498 14-24 year olds shared their views related to education, employment and skills. Only 38% believed they understood the skills employer are looking for, with many worried they had not been able to build up the level of skills required.

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Although over three quarters recognised the value of work experience, only 51% of those surveyed had access to any. Disappointingly 80% had never even received a visit from an employer while they were in school.

While schools may strive to improve careers information, advice and guidance and meet the Gatsby benchmarks, without the resource or capacity and the inevitable pressure of delivering a content heavy curriculum, it clearly presents a challenge.

If more evidence were needed that our curriculum is not fit for purpose, then we need look no further than the latest ONS Statistical Bulletin on Young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).

While on the surface the slight drop in figures looks like welcome news, 282,000 16-24 year olds are NEET and unemployed. If we consider there are 226,000 skills shortage vacancies, it illustrates the clear disconnect between education and employment. Almost a quarter of a million vacancies and over a quarter of a million young people without the skills to fill the roles.

Are we to assume those 282,000 young people have no GCSEs or other qualifications which the government sees as the apotheosis of education? Or perhaps they do, but find it’s not enough to equip them for the skilled roles employers are crying out for?

Either way, we know we are failing our young people, teachers know it and young people themselves know it.

The government’s belief that passing exams alone equips students with the skills and smarts for careers now and in the future, is an even bigger piece of fiction than *spoiler alert* Santa’s elfin workforce.

Happy Christmas from Edge.

Alice Barnard, Chief Executive of Edge

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