From education to employment

We need a fundamental change if we are to arm our college leavers with the skills to succeed

The Work Foundation report, released last week, states that 450,000 Neets have never had a regular job. The report reaches the same conclusion as many others over the last decade, that young people trying to get on the first rung of the employment ladder don’t have the depth or breadth of experience that they require in this changing economic climate.

It’s very important that what we don’t do is imagine that the problems raised by this report can be fixed simply by making some cosmetic changes.

This is not simply about mentoring and supporting on top of the existing qualification system in schools and colleges, nor is it about making some minor change to the relationship between employers and local authorities. If we continue on this path, the current qualification based system will still fail to deliver solutions to the issues that the report raises.

Instead, as we have long known, we need a fundamental change in how we support young people in colleges. I believe that the key to this change is developing a more creative and entrepreneurial learning environment for the next generation.

The Gazelle Colleges Group is connecting with entrepreneurs and employers in order to, amongst other things, enable them to shape the curriculum of the future.

The Enterprising Futures report, released this year by Gazelle, showed that employers have a growing demand for creativity and ingenuity, and there is an increasing need for graduates to be equipped with the skills to be self employed. Our argument is that it is high time that we actually focussed upon solutions rather than problems.

One of our first major social enterprise projects, Pantrepreneur, is a programme across 15 colleges that connects Ben Ramsden, the founder of Pants to Poverty, to students, who are tasked with designing and selling pairs of Fairtrade Olympic-themed pants in teams.

Pantrepreneur is a great example of the applied approach to learning that we wish to see accelerate over the next five years. It brings young people from different disciplines together to focus on how to make a successful business, from design to selling, customer service and promotion. This gives students the opportunity to engage very differently than they would in a traditional classroom environment.

Colleges need to see the value of such initiatives. Take City College Norwich’s excellent Start Up Lounge – this innovative facility for teaching enterprise and entrepreneurship skills works to encourage students to create a profitable outcome, or drive a project forward.

The roster of entrepreneurs that Gazelle is already working with are committed to developing learning opportunities that will enable young people to graduate with confidence – the confidence to create their own opportunities, or to add value to companies straight away.

On the 21 June, Gazelle is hosting a symposium in the House of Commons with Neil Carmichael, the Deputy Chairman of the Education Select Committee, along with business leaders and twenty college principals.

There, we will speak about how can we deliver a strategic response to the findings from Enterprising Futures, and discuss how the further education system of the future can be shaped to meet the changing business needs of the 21st century global economy.

Like the Work Foundation report says, if any young person hasn’t managed to raise their self-esteem through meaningful employment by the age of 24, it is likely that they will be massively disadvantaged for a significant part of their lives.

Somehow we are expected to fix this within the existing qualification system.  Isolated teaching in occupational silos, however valid for the more focussed A-level student, will not create the inquisitive, creative team player that the report suggests is needed for a different future.

Enterprising Futures highlights four worlds of earning opportunity: the corporate, artisanal, networking, and entrepreneurial worlds. In preparing first-time employment seekers we need to be mindful that self-employment has to be a legitimate and valued outcome for significant numbers of students who will need to be self-sufficient, for a time at least, in order to function economically in a changing climate.

Fintan Donohue is chief executive of Gazelle Global and principal and CEO of North Hertfordshire College

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