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What should HR hope for from the next government?

The race for number 10 continues to heat up but, regardless of who wins in the polls, there are certain priorities employers and education providers are hoping for

For too long in the UK we’ve not been as good as our competitor nations at transitioning students through education and into work – either via vocational or academic pathways.

The education, recruitment and development of people at the start of their career journey is vitally important to the health of the UK economy and the next government – whichever party this turns out to be – must make this a priority. Fix the skills gap and we’ll go a long way to fixing the UK’s productivity problem.

At the Institute of Student Employers, we have set out what we hope will be priorities for the next government in our latest manifesto. Representing the voice of UK employers who recruit students, graduates, apprentices and interns, we are calling for greater emphasis on employer collaboration with higher education institutions.

From working with our members we can see the important strides that have been taken over the years by both employers and universities to work together. All parties have reaped the benefits including those preparing to take their first steps on the career ladder.

However, this requires support and investment and we hope that the future government will look to preserve and extend this momentum. This means the employer voice should be heard in new policies to give a clear understanding of what the labour market needs to thrive.

Our Inside Student Recruitment report this year showed that employers have reduced work placements and internships for the first time in the history of the survey, due to increased pressures and the time involved in providing these opportunities.

Yet, these opportunities are vitally important to both the students taking them on and the businesses involved. Internships provide a viable route to a graduate job with the majority of employers making a job offer straight after the programme has finished. Also employers find that interns perform better on the job, stay longer and are more likely to have honed the skills businesses need. It’s clear to see why it’s vital that the offering of work placements doesn’t decline or plateau but grows. So we are calling on the next government to support this notion.

Universities should be viewed as engines of local economies and as such be encouraged to build links with Local Enterprise Partnerships as well as local and regional businesses. They should be required to provide institutional careers services, including an employer liaison function.

As an output we would anticipate growth in employer contributions to the curriculum as well as more employer-led projects, workshops, talks, and of course, those all-important work experience opportunities.

As we consider the prospect of putting employers at the heart of higher education policy we must not overlook the importance of also putting them at the heart of vocational education too.

There must be continued investment in building a strong vocational system alongside our world-class education system and employers should be engaged in its design and implementation. This means putting substantive policies and public information campaigns in place that clearly spell out the message that vocational and academic routes have parity of esteem and that both are suitable for all qualified candidates.

Employers should be consulted in the design of any new initiatives such as T-levels, reaffirming the principle of employer ownership of the skills system.

And, of course, let’s not forget apprenticeships. Even though the apprenticeship system has seen radical change over the last few years, our members have engaged enthusiastically so it’s important that the future government is committed to its maintenance and streamlining. There must be stability in the system with any changes limited and implemented gradually with careful employer consultation.

One final ask of whoever gets the keys to number 10? To turn their grand election talk into a real and sustained investment that puts early talent at the heart of a revised industrial strategy.

Stephen Isherwood is chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers