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If business owners want to employ bright, motivated young people, they too must take ownership of the problem, says CEO

Business owners need to work more closely with education if they want to employ bright, motivated young people, according to small business owner Jason Holt, who earlier this year conducted a government review into apprenticeships in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Holt, who is CEO of jewellery company Holts Group and founder of not-for-profit social enterprise Holt's Academy of Jewellery, was responding to a call from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) for schools in England to increase their engagement with small businesses. Research from the FSB finds only 9% of small firms have taken on an apprentice in the past 12 months and that 42% believe an apprenticeship is not relevant for their business.

"I would like to see schools preparing young people for the world of work – and not just for university, as they do now. That means regular visits from employers, more opportunities to undertake work experience, in a broad range of sectors, and independent advice and guidance delivered by people with hands-on experience of the workplace," said Holt.

"But it's not just down to schools. If business owners want to employ bright, motivated young people, they too must take ownership of the problem, working closely with schools, colleges and other education providers to help young people develop the skills employers need," he added.

The FSB's report, The Apprenticeship Journey, released last week, says 69% of small firms want a greater emphasis on employability skills in schools. By working with local businesses, schools can gain a better understanding of what small businesses need from young people, the FSB believes.

It adds that the more contact young people have with business the better prepared they are for an apprenticeship and the workplace. With 77% of the firms surveyed that employ school leavers saying they have poor business knowledge, this would be a major step forward, said the FSB.

Two-thirds of small firms have never had any contact with local schools or colleges. Many businesses are unsure about how to get in touch and don't have the time to 'cold call', so it should be up to the school to reach out to small businesses in the local area and build sustainable partnerships with small businesses to provide this valuable knowledge, the report says.

John Walker, national chairman of the FSB, said: "This is a missed opportunity. The status of apprenticeships needs to vastly increase in the eyes of young people, schools, parents and employers. Apprenticeships need to be seen as of equal value to academic routes into the workplace.

"By encouraging business engagement earlier in the schools system through careers guidance, work experience and mentoring, not only would it improve people's opinion, but it would also mean that youngsters can make an informed choice about their choice of career."

Holt said there was a strong case for pre-apprenticeship programmes that bridge the gap between school and the workplace.

"This could take the form of a traineeship that helps young people develop the necessary functional skills, like numeracy and literacy, alongside employability skills," he said.

"Being an exemplary school is not just about getting good A level results and education leaders shouldn't lose sight of their responsibilities for developing young peoples' employability skills. But changes to the way schools are measured and assessed will not happen overnight," he added.

The video below shows Jason Holt discussing apprenticeships in the HR Lunchtime Debate, together with James Watts, VP of HR and chief people officer for KFC UK and Ireland, one of the largest divisions of Yum Restaurant International; and Harmajinder Hayre, employment partner for sponsor, HR Legal Service:

The next HR Lunchtime Debate live web TV show – 'Improving the nation’s skills: practical steps to help employers address the basic skills deficit in today’s workplace' – takes place on Tuesday 27 November at 13.00 GMT in conjunction with Learndirect. To register for more details, please email sian.harrington@markallengroup.com