We know what employers want, let’s get on and deliver it

10 November 2015

There was disagreement at a joint BIS and DoE seminar this week with Cambridge Assessment’s Tim Coates saying that the CBI’s call for young people to be ‘work ready’ when they left school was ‘absurd’. The CBI stance was defended by Pearson’s Rod Bristow who said that the CBI wants ‘hard’ skills such as numeracy and literacy but also softer skills like leadership, communications and character traits like humility and integrity.

There is a middle way. NIACE research was completed by young people working with employers in 2015 to establish What Employers Want. Working with 40 employers of varying sizes across various sectors the research found that while employers valued qualifications, a positive attitude and a willingness to learn, more important was bringing fresh ideas and passion in to a business. However the employers were realistic. They didn’t expect young people to be fully developed or fully skilled but recognised that young people need the time and opportunity to learn and grow in to a job. Most welcomed the chance to shape young people and specifically wanted a positive attitude and softer skills such as the ability to problem solve and to be resilient under pressure, to work as part of a team and to manage time effectively. Hard skills – literacy, numeracy, IT skills, a commitment to their career and to qualifications to boost it were all rated highly by employers, as was experience of employment whether this was part time, volunteering or work experience.

Young people will not come into work armed with these attributes unless there is a focused curriculum-based activity around helping young people build these characteristics. There are policy moves afoot to move in this direction. This week it was announced that effective from March 2017 Jobcentre Plus support will be available in all secondary schools, beginning with trials this month in Birmingham and extending to a further 9 Pathfinder areas before the end of this academic year. However, the support won’t be universally available but will be targeted at young people at risk of being NEET and will focus on three key area, “advising on routes in to traineeship and apprenticeships, highlighting the importance of work experience using JCP’s employer network and providing realistic advice on the local labour market.” It could be argued that this is a universal right and all young people should be a party to this guidance and indeed that Jobcentre Plus may not be the right deliverer of such advice. Careers England has expressed surprise that the Government was launching the initiative through DWP while the Department for Education is currently reviewing provision of careers information, advice and guidance in schools. Let us hope that government departments coordinate their (increasingly scarce) resources and give universal support to schools to get all young people properly informed about their opportunities and equipped with the skills that employers are very clearly stating they want.

It remains to be seen how all this will play out but you can learn more, hear about these initiatives and be involved in the debate at the Youth Employment Convention on 24 November 2015. Be there and contribute to the discussion!