Whether you have a son or daughter just finishing their summer exams or you’re a high-tech manufacturer hoping to add to your pool of skilled technicians, we all want young people to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential – not just in work but in life. But the education system must do more to prepare them for life outside the school gates – or we risk wasting our greatest asset.
There is no bigger issue facing our economy today than getting the education and skills system in the right shape to meet rising demand for a highly motivated, highly skilled workforce to underpin our future economic success.
British firms are concerned about the resilience and self-management skills of some school leavers and with their attitude towards work. Many are worried that young people making the jump from the classroom to the meeting room do not possess enough knowledge of their chosen careers or have relevant work experience. This reflects business opinion that the careers advice system is in a perilous state, with four out of five firms saying it’s simply not up to the task and is letting young people down.
The journey we all make from school to the workplace can be very daunting so incentivising our schools, colleges and university to develop students with the grit, ambition and emotional intelligence needed to build successful careers would help. Too often, the Government redesigns exams and expects them to change the system, rather than changing the system and using exams to accredit it. We need to take a step back to see the big picture and create a system that better reflects how well a school’s culture nurtures the behaviours and attitudes young people need. This cannot be judged by exam results alone.
We also need to end the perception that vocational qualifications are second best – good enough for other people’s children, but not our own. Businesses want qualifications that have real currency in the labour market and equip young people with the knowledge, skills and behaviours that match business needs. The new government should therefore reform 14-18 education in our schools and colleges, with a more personalised model that allows a mixed model of academic and vocational provision, as for too long A levels followed by university has been seen as the only route to a good career.
But it’s not enough for business to stand on the side-lines. Firms must also play their part. There have been positive steps to move towards the employer-driven skills system we need, but increased business engagement can equally add value to a school’s environment - from involvement in careers guidance and staff volunteering as governors, to sponsoring academies and supporting teachers to deliver motivational and inspiring lessons.
We’ve got to make sure that every young person receives an education that will enable him or her to fulfil their true potential – in every school and college across the UK, whatever the area and whoever is in charge. We’re hearing the right noises from politicians across the board these days, and seeing some progress, but the need for genuine reform of the system remains.