Are students really being robbed of the right skills to succeed at work?

Kevin Young , 16 Sep 2013

Kevin Young

As summer draws to a close, a whole raft of university graduates and school leavers are readying themselves for the world of work. But are they leaving with the right skills, experience and work ethic?

It is evident, even as early as the job interview stage, that many candidates are woefully underprepared for the world of work. A huge mismatch exists between the skills they possess and those that employers need.

Intellect, the UK's technology trade association, last month said major technology companies are struggling to recruit young people in the UK, with many finding that school or university leavers are not ready for work.

Research from SkillsSoft found the education system is "failing" the next generation of workers. According to the study, 54% of UK CEOs believe a good degree or A-Levels alone are no longer a guarantee of career success.

While they valued qualifications in their future managers, they felt the current education system was doing nothing to equip future workers with the basic skills they needed.

Understanding the problem

There is a void between the skills gained in education and those new starters need. With businesses working leaner and smarter to achieve success, they expect more when it comes to basic skills in order to hit the ground running.

Within a few years, many of today's new recruits will work in remote, virtual, flexible teams. In 10 years they could be leading these teams, so it is vital they begin developing skills and expertise to succeed in this new environment.

Bridging the gap between education and employment

Equipping graduates for the world of work should go beyond interview practice and getting CVs up to scratch. There must be stronger links between education establishments and employers to ensure new starters are given a chance to hone the right skills for their future career.

While it is important to drive the education system to plug the current gap between what businesses need and get from new recruits, so too is the role of training within organisations.

Workers need to be encouraged and supported by their employers and given the tools to further their knowledge in order to meet expectations. Sitting back and criticising the education system isn't working: employers need to accept that they have a responsibility to impart relevant knowledge and teach new skills.

Many organisations are now looking overseas to source top talent. However, instead of heavily focusing recruitment efforts on finding better-skilled foreign workers, UK businesses should look closer to home for talent and work together with new recruits to fine tune and develop their skills with on-the-job training and support.

This means harnessing the latest technologies to deliver increasingly vibrant, visual and interactive multi-channel digital learning programmes within both the school and work environment.

Clearly there is value in bringing in highly skilled workers to fill positions, but the long term strategy to develop the workforce must be rooted in a closer collaboration with UK industry and education and a culture of training, development and opportunity.

Kevin Young is general manager of Skillsoft EMEA

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Skills for work

Janice Knight 18 Sep 2013

I absolutely agree with comments made by Kevin Young. For the past two years I have been working with young people running employability skills courses. The young people I work with are really not prepared for work when they leave school or come out of further education. I also agree that employers need to do more to help young people - perhaps by working more closely with schools and other education providers. I found a local company who were prepared to meet with my students and talk them through an induction process that all new employees receive when they join the company. This was really outside any of the students experience so really helped them to get a feel about what the workplace is like and what is expected of new starters. This employer and others locally also carry out mock interviews for our students and give them feedback. Key issues that are fed back are lack of confidence, motivation, lack of understanding of how to answer competency based questions at interview, and poor presentation skills. It is so important that this gap is bridged or we risk having a generation of young people who have been let down by education and by employers.

Schools need to meet employers half way

Adrian Oldfield 18 Sep 2013

Yes, young people are being robbed of the skills to succeed at work and employers are looking elsewhere to fill the gap and quite right too! The biggest single contributor to the employability of our young people is work experience. Unfortunately it’s no longer mandatory. Removing mandatory work experience is the biggest single example of “skills vandalism” ever! We need to re-instate mandatory work experience at year 10. I'm not talking about two weeks in any old placement; we need to ensure that work experience is relevant to the aspirations of the young person, their predicted exam outcomes and routes available after school to enter that sector. The Big Academy is working with schools and employers and where we arrange the right quality of placement with the support of our careers staff and recruiters we can demonstrate real achievement. This isn’t rocket science and until the government stops trying to bribe employers with incentives and low wages for young people the figures will continue to get worse. What employers really want is the best person to do the job and they will create roles for youngsters if those youngsters understand the world of work, have a little experience and appreciate the disciplines required. The government seems to only value work experience for 18 to 23 year olds, at that age they should be very comfortable with the world of work and taking their place within it.

Yes, they really are!

Kelly 19 Sep 2013

Having worked with young people for the past 6 years and supporting them into work, one of the biggest impacts is the loss of mandatory work experience and a lack of careers guidance and support from the likes of Connexions. Working also with Employers the one key thing they are keen to see from a school leaver is not grades, but what work experience did they do, have they had a part time job, or have they completed any volunteer work or extra curricular activities and qualifications (i.e Duke of Edinburgh), which help to show some skills and a willingness to learn. Time and time again I have seen keen and enthusiastic young people lose motivation and confidence at constant rejection due to a lack of any support (even down to CV and letter writing) and a lack of understanding of what is required of them from employers, as they have had no taster or introduction to real work. Schools, and first and foremost- government, should be whole heartedly supporting this type of preparation of young people into the world of work, but as has already been said, employers need to meet half way and do their part, by working with schools, whether that be by supplying careers advise, attending career days, or offering work experience and taster days. We are seriously letting our young generation down by not doing our utmost to prepare and provide them with the necessary skills and information.

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