From education to employment

Is Britain building a work ‘force’ or a work ‘farce’?

There are currently two distinct profiles of education leavers, they are either profile A: those that have no expectations and therefore expect to spend ‘life (or at least part of their lives) on the dole’ and profile B: those that have outlandish expectations and expect a ‘life on a roll’.

‘A life on the dole’ profiles are the disillusioned youngsters, who have little expectations or ambitions, were pretty much ignored at school and lack any self-esteem. Those teenagers who will potentially join the other 750,000 under 25’s currently on the dole in the UK and who have no real hope or prospects of a fulfilling career.

This is something that governments, educators, and the parents of these children should be mortally ashamed of yep our 21st century forgotten youth.

‘The life on a roll’ profile however, is the youngsters at the other end of the spectrum with over inflated expectations, huge egos and with the ‘conquer the world’ ambitions.

Nothing to be ashamed of there, BUT it is not what UK businesses generally want.

Beware the entrepreneur!

I was once told ‘never hire an individual with an entrepreneurial spirit, as they will steal your ideas, your business and your best staff (and probably your husband or your wife)’. This I have unfortunately seen happen to many businesses over the years, with dire consequences.

I was fortunate enough to meet a large number of this ‘on a roll’ profile first hand, whilst working for three years as a freelance business advice consultant on ‘The Young Apprentice’ programme. I saw droves of these youngsters, literally ‘rolling’ into their initial interviews for positions on the forthcoming series. Each candidate determined to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page.

In this ‘on a roll’ group I estimated that 70% were public school educated, so not really indicative of a balanced spread of the UK’s young. But a good indicator of how expectations have changed, at least at one level.

The missing link

So, as you have probably guessed it’s that bit in the middle, those neither happy being ‘on the dole’, or having a mundane job, or too eager to be ‘on a roll’ and take over the world.
Yep that ‘key’ majority profile required of any workforce, the backbone to any organisation.

Those youngsters who have realistic expectations and ambitions, those who understand that you have to work your way to success, by firstly displaying the right attitudes, be seen to have the drive to succeed, be self- motivated, self-organised and respectful of their employers and teammates. All delivered in a balanced way!

Youngster who don’t want to be the next CEO, but want to have a reasonable standard of living, and are willing to grow in the business and not expect the business to grow around them.

It is this profile that the majority of UK businesses desire and look for when interviewing education leavers, but unfortunately most are generally left disappointed, as a report by the CBI last year highlighted:

(This CBI survey was based on responses from 291 companies collectively employing nearly 1.5 million people).

It concluded

‘The findings show, that around three fifths (61 per cent) are concerned about the resilience and self-management of school leavers, while a third (33 per cent) are worried about attitudes to work’.

At the same time, employers rate attitudes to work and a young person’s general aptitude as their top priority when recruiting (85 per cent and 63 per cent respectively), ahead of literacy and numeracy (44 per cent) and academic results (30 per cent)’.

So why is there this gaping and widening hole of youngsters having the wrong attitude, no drive and lack of resilience, that these businesses crave for?

If you take the business analogy ‘turnover is vanity – profit is sanity’ and apply it to how the education system currently works you have your answer.

Education establishments use their results (the vanity) as the measure of their success, for example:

Sixth forms: Gain as many A levels and GCSE as possible, preferably at the highest level (vanity).

Colleges: Gain as many certificates pass as possible (vanity).

Universities: Send as many graduates on their merry way with (some may say ‘dubious’) degrees, first class if possible (vanity).

And of course, my all time favourite, spouted by government as the key solution to the UK’s youth unemployment! Yes you’ve guessed it –

Apprenticeships: The government has vowed to introduce 3 million apprenticeship schemes (Oh the vanity). Wow!

Now, I used to be a great advocate of apprenticeships, in the days when they had value, were rightly spread over a realistic period of time and were valued by both parties, and most importantly, normally led to a full time role for the youngsters.

I believe that is still true of large organisations where the apprenticeship spirit is still alive and kicking and never really went away.

Where I have an issue is with the ‘sign up anybody’ approach that is now being taken, which slaps of another government trying to manipulate youth unemployment figures.

Call me cynical, but if I was a small enterprise who was under pressure of labour (which most are), and a training provider (who by the way are funded by the government to get as many companies signed up as possible) came a knocking at my door, offering me £1,500 to sign up to the scheme, and then offered me a young pair of hands for just £2.73 per hour, without having to commit to giving that youngster a job or contract at the end of the apprenticeship period, what would I do?

‘With numbers come vanity and the misguided sense that ‘our work is done’

So vanity is all about BIG figures, companies boasting that they turned over £10m last year, but forgot to say that they actually made a loss. It’s the same with education establishments and government work schemes its all about the numbers not about the future success of those youngsters.

For example, try and find out how many apprentices last year were offered full time jobs at the end of their apprenticeships, and I’m not talking about the large companies who can rightly boast take up numbers, I am talking about the majority the small to medium enterprises that have been signed up to this over blown scheme.

Go on try Googling it!

So, until this country starts to measure the right things (the ‘Profit’ namely the future success of our young, not just the qualifications they gain) and give students the correct skills required by businesses and crucially do this before they leave education (and these skills by the way do not have to have awards at the end of them, most are common sense).

We will inevitably carry on producing either too many ‘dolers’ or to many ‘rollers’, when what our country needs is balanced individuals with balanced expectations.

Philip Peters is managing director of Leading National Training, which specialises in workplace preparation for students

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