We all remember what, as children, we wanted to be when we "grew up". Whether it’s a football player, a famous model, or indeed, HR’s equivalent of Alan Sugar (she’ll find out, don’t worry), we all had ambition and at least when I entered the job market, there were plenty of jobs available. None as a famous footballer, but times were much easier (this isn’t ALL that long ago!)

The reality for school leavers today now is very different. Limited prospects, increasing competition and lack of training are making it very difficult for young adults in particular to find employment, despite cautious optimism earlier this year. Is going to university the answer? There will always be certain positions where a successful a degree education is mandatory. Those aside, experience and skills outweigh educational achievements during the selection process. Recent data from Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that 25% of 21-year-olds who left university with a degree in 2011 were unemployed compared with 26% of school leavers.

So why after investing thousands in a university education are graduates still struggling to find employment? Although vacancy numbers are reportedly starting to increase, according to a recent report by High Fliers Research, more than half of recruiters say graduates who have no previous work experience are unlikely to make it through their selection process. While there can be many reasons candidates aren’t successful in job interviews, by far the most common reason given to graduates is lack of experience.

One very recent initiative that seems to be growing in the UK is the introduction of studio schools; an alternative 21st century approach to learning, developed in partnership with local and national employers, leading education agencies and government. This new concept aims to address the growing gap between the skills and experience demanded by employers, and those that the current education system provides.

While teaching the national curriculum through interdisciplinary, enterprise-themed projects, studio schools place far more emphasis on practical work and enterprise. This unique style of teaching and ethos aims to provide young people with the necessary qualifications and range of skills, while engaging them in working in businesses and social enterprises, from running a business to directly serving customers.

Each student is allocated a personal coach who provides them with ongoing support including coaching and practical learning sessions. The scheme incorporates various workplace features to help students prepare for life after education, such as booking holidays, one-to-one meetings and 9am – 5pm working days.

While studio schools seem to tick a number of boxes on the ‘how to fix youth unemployment’ list, many are sceptical about the intentions behind the scheme.

There has been much criticism surrounding the fact that companies involved with schools get paid to find jobs for their students. Some believe that further enhancing the diversity of the education system is unnecessary and that it puts pressure on students to choose a career path too young. Other concerns are that studio schools represent a further threat to local education provision, fragmenting local admission arrangements and the provision of local education services, as well as the funding and intakes of neighbouring schools.

It’s fair to say that studio schools are a controversial issue for many. Although it’s a big change to the way education has been delivered historically, the end result is an opportunity for Generation Z to gain relevant work experience prior to leaving school or university. 

And that bodes well for future generations – even those who want to become footballers, models, or trigger-happy HR professionals!

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