Matt McIntyre: School-leavers need useful skills

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A recent British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Workforce Survey reported that of the 3000 firms they contacted, 88 per cent thought school-leavers were not ready for employment and 54 per cent said it was the same for graduates.

Applicants’ lack of work experience was also cited by 76 per cent of businesses as being a problem, although 61 per cent admitted that they did not offer these types of placements themselves.

These are worrying statistics for employers and even more so for our young people leaving school or higher education looking for jobs. At the moment, the reality is that we are educating children for jobs that in a lot of cases don’t yet exist. The various short-term measures introduced to address this problem have instead created a cobbled-together system strangled by regulation and bureaucracy that takes very little account of what industry requires.

The Government must spearhead a concerted campaign to ensure there is more joined-up thinking between industry and education. We need to be clear about what we need the next generation to be good at and invest in them to make sure their skills are fit for purpose.

So what skills do we need our students and graduates to have? Of the companies surveyed by the BCC, 57 per cent reported that school-leavers and graduates lacked “soft skills” for the workplace such as communication, team-working and resilience. Young people need to learn effective listening skills and how to put a point across in a meeting without being aggressive and confrontational.

Unfortunately, the ability to work and communicate as part of a team is not a skill that can be easily judged. It’s the same for other workplace skills such as problem solving and being proactive: knowing how to make things happen and how to fix them if they go wrong. Ideally, these skills should be brought into play in every subject taught at school so students have the opportunity to use these skills in a safe environment and discuss their use afterwards.

On the other side of the fence, industry needs to be more pro-active at providing meaningful work experience and apprenticeships. If business fails to make the necessary investment needed to grow their own talent, they will end up paying a fortune to buy someone else’s talent. However, most businesses are not in a position to always “buy-in” expertise, therefore it is vital that education asks industry what they’re looking for, then provides it. If we are to continue to be a globally competitive country, business and society needs to invest heavily in the next generation so that they are more qualified and better prepared to add value to the workplace.

Matt McIntyre is learning and development consultant at OnTrack International