Youth workplace skills: why employers and not schools need to up their game

As employers gather for CBI 2012, we are hearing familiar complaints of a young workforce lacking the right skills – familiar and misguided.

Let’s be pragmatic. If employers want a more employable workforce, there is much they can do to create it for themselves. Many employers complain about the lack of suitable skills among job candidates, but far fewer act to fix the problem. For such a pragmatic, problem-solving community, this is paradoxical and it will only require direct interventions by a relatively small number of employers to create a chain reaction, one that will significantly improve the funding for work-ready education and skills forever.

Let’s start at the top. Big business has a particularly important role to play, with the top 500 businesses in this country employ 40% of people. Imagine one of the country’s largest employers telling the Government that it plans to set up a large-scale apprenticeship and vocational training programme for tens of thousands of youngsters. This will give them a chance of a job in the first instance, followed by the opportunity to develop their skills with further training. All the government has to do is make a modest contribution to its funding.
Let’s dare to dream. Now imagine if ten or a dozen such employers –a coalition of the willing – did the same thing on a similar scale in a short space of time. What would any government with an eye on the economic and social damage of youth unemployment choose to do? Even given the size and scale of FE funding in this country, Government funding would only have to rebalance the funding pot for skills a little to support business-led interventions of this sort.

Let’s extrapolate, but only a little. The Government only needs to support 10 projects on this scale to impact the lives of 1 million people, many of them making their first steps on the career ladder with practical and relevant skills. And if cost is removed as a significant problem for big business, then everything becomes possible. Employers can begin to design their perfect world of work-based learning: their premises become the learning centres of excellence, their line managers the mentors, their employees the beneficiaries of work-based learning and career mobility.

Let’s talk ROI. With the appropriate expert course design and delivery, the employer can get a far better return on the investment they are already planning to make. So it wouldn’t take too much from a “coalition” of willing employers to make a big and lasting difference to skills and employability in the UK.

Employers have run out of excuses – let’s get moving. Now.

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