Opinion

What does the future hold for school leavers post-Brexit?

5 min read

17 August 2016

There has been a great deal of debate about the effect of Brexit from an economic, societal and cultural perspective, and education is no exception, says IBM's Jenny Taylor.

As school leavers across the UK receive their A-Level results on Thursday 18 August, it will be an exciting, happy, confusing and overwhelming time for many. It is crucial employers support diversity within the job market and ensure there is no one single route for school leavers to develop and hone new skills.

Graduate roles vs apprenticeships

There has been a lot of debate in recent years surrounding the record numbers of school leavers gaining higher education and university places and those entering into non-graduate jobs on completion of their degrees. Research pre-Brexit suggested 58.8 per cent of UK graduates are in non-graduate roles, a figure only exceeded by Greece and Estonia.

We should, of course, not deter students from entering university, but we need to educate them about all the options available for their career path. And there needs to be more championing of alternative routes, which in recent years have been seen as a secondary string to entering higher education.

This trend has particularly affected occupations where apprenticeships have been historically important such as construction and manufacturing. Only in recent years have companies started to adopt pilot apprenticeship models and schemes. For employers and the overall economy, this is a balancing act and one that certainly needs to be supported.

Apprenticeships are known to provide that real-life experience that graduate students often lack when they first start in the workplace and the business case for apprenticeships is compelling. Some 89 per cent of employers say they make their business more productive. Apprenticeships bring opportunity to attract new talent, offer progression and develop a motivated, skilled, qualified and relevant workforce.

Degree apprenticeships, working and learning at the same time are also an excellent option, enabling school leavers into the work place with relevant qualifications for the field they wish to pursue and the much talked about Apprenticeship Levy will drive further interest from employers observing apprentices. This could, in turn, lead to a different split in apprentice and graduate hiring across the board and readdress the balance in the UK.

Read more on education and business:

Tackling the digital skills gap

Employers know that apprenticeships build relevant skills in the workforce and post-Brexit this will represent a low risk, high return way for employers to invest in their future workforce.

There is no denying that there is a lack of uptake across STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) in the UK and apprenticeships are a great way to change this.

Brits would fail to survive an apocalypse due to lack of STEM skills

However, it’s important we educate school leavers as to what STEM actually looks like in application; what you can do with technology and how it can help clients and public services. We need to ensure school leavers are being advised correctly as they are “essential” to tomorrow’s workforce.

It is key in times of uncertainty that students really focus on what would provide them with the best opportunity for relevant and fulfilling employment. Employers should be looking to champion alternative educational routes ensuring a rich pipeline of those with the right skill-sets for their future company roadmap.

Whether that looks like graduates, apprentices or degree apprentices, in a post-Brexit economy, UK homegrown and international businesses must continue to demonstrate an ability to hire and maintain best of breed talent through a wider funnel of recruits than simply university graduates.

Jenny Taylor is UK graduate, apprenticeship and student programme manager at IBM