Levelling the field in preparing for work


At a college advisory board meeting this week the message from employers was a familiar one.

When it comes to job interviews, young people just aren’t prepared.

The typical candidate was described as having done little or no research on the company or role, inappropriately dressed and lacking the desired language, behaviour or attitude.

Not a ringing endorsement for today’s young people.

For our born digital generation the prospect of a 20 minute interview focused on a single activity, involving conversation and eye contact, can feel like an alien concept. More typically our young people are wired to mobile devices, used to texting while talking or engaging in multiple social media conversations without human contact.

It raises the age old question of work readiness and how we get our young people to meet the expectations of employers and the demands of the workplace.

As we approach the general election, apprenticeships are the hot topic and look set for growth whatever happens in May.

The education select committee has just released its report on apprenticeships and traineeships for 16-19 year olds, which warns against sacrificing quality for the sake of scale. Meanwhile the debate about the credibility of level two apprenticeships rumbles on.

We get hung up on levels because that is how funding is allocated, but our focus should really be on how long it takes for a young person to prepare for employment. For some that is a one-year journey, for some it takes two and for others more. Quality is of course important at every level, but I would prefer to see a more holistic approach which puts the needs of the learner first. This is more about developing a career pathway, made up of multiple elements, but which provides a clear line of sight to employment.

The introduction of traineeships has provided a welcome stepping stone for those keen to enter employment but who lack the skills and experience. Skills Minister Nick Boles has revealed government plans to double traineeships this academic year. The announcement is driven by early evidence that suggests around half of those engaged in traineeships have already progressed to positive destinations.

We have seen successful examples at Activate Learning where trainees have made great strides in improving confidence and social skills thanks to work placements and the support of teaching teams. These are people who weren’t work ready, or apprenticeship ready, but have thrived in the right environment.

As we continue to invest in apprenticeships as a means of preparing young people for employment, I would like to see more support for small and medium-sized employers. Smaller employers tell us that they are put off by apprenticeship jargon and fear the burden of developing talent.

I am interested in an approach which groups small employers together, to achieve greater quality and efficiencies in the training programmes being delivered. This would also benefit apprentices who could share their experience with those from other organisations rather than feeling isolated as the only apprentice in what can be an older workforce.

Whatever emerges from the ongoing reviews of apprenticeships and traineeships, work readiness must sit at the heart of these programmes. If apprenticeships are to help tackle the UK’s skills shortage, as has been suggested, we need them to develop young people who will be highly sought after by employers of all types and sizes.

Sally Dicketts is Group Chief Executive of Activate Learning. Tweets@sallydicketts

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