If there is ever to be complete synergy between education and business, then schools, colleges, training providers and universities have to ask employers the ‘Spice Girls’ Question’ – ‘What do you really, really want’!
A big concern of businesses is that this country is not producing the right kind, and certainly not enough, of the skilled workers we need.
The education system has to understand what our economy needs and deliver people for the right industries. No longer can universities offer obscure degrees in things like surfing and we can’t have apprenticeships in shelf-stacking.
We need skills and qualifications that will help create effective employees for the financial, service, engineering, construction and traditional trade sectors, among others, which are central to the country’s economic success.
Unfortunately, Tony Blair’s ‘education, education, education’ generation of ‘university at all costs has left us facing considerable skills gaps in the near and medium-term future.
In addition, to enable the country to have a prosperous economy, employers require a consistent stream of new entrants that can hit the ground running when they enter the workplace.
This comes down to students being ‘work ready’, but this is currently one of the biggest challenges facing employers.
A recent YouGov survey of 635 employers for The Times revealed that more than half of the graduates they hire are not ‘work ready’ when they leave university.
This is very worrying and highlights how out of touch universities are when it comes to the real world. Growing numbers of universities are now offering employability programmes to their courses, but if this survey is anything to go by it appears they’re coming up short.
We need people with decent communication skills, can work effectively in a team, and be resilient and punctual. It’s not much to ask, but in fact they’re attributes that are tough to find.
Making the transition from education to the workplace can be a shock to the system, which is why colleges and universities have to play their part and take the lead from work-based training providers.
Many of these providers treat their training centres like real workplaces where trainees are judged by things like timekeeping and adherence to health and safety as part of their training.
Mix this with a decent amount of ‘on the job’ work experience or internships then very quickly you’ll find a lot more ‘work ready’ candidates applying for jobs.
Of course, the central way to do this is through apprenticeships. We need to follow the example of Germany where those who don’t have a job or a place at university when they leave school go straight into an apprenticeship.
That should happen here through a government-funded standardised national apprenticeship scheme, which will encourage more employers to invest in apprentices and help deliver a larger, skilled workforce for the future.
While the relationship between education and business is closing – much at the instigation of employers – more needs to be done.
Serving the needs of employers has to be education’s unwavering priority. At the same time, businesses have to acknowledge they have a role to play in supporting the development of future generations of workers.
If we’re all drinking from the same teapot, I am convinced that employers can get ‘what they really, really want’ from education!
Charlie Mullins is CEO and founder of Pimlico Plumbers.
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