This article was written by Kirsty Mackie, Head of Barclays LifeSkills, which provides businesses access to free resources to help them develop work experience frameworks.
In their annual survey of employers on education and skills out last week, the CBI and Pearson have highlighted the challenges that businesses face recruiting young people who are ready for the world of work. According to the report, Changing the Pace, nearly two thirds of all employers (61 percent) are dissatisfied with the levels of business and customer awareness among school and college leavers and over half (55 percent) report that not enough young people leave school with work experience.
This state of affairs risks undermining the potential achievement of so many young people who leave education motivated, smart and inquisitive, eager to prove themselves in the world of work, if a little unsure how to do so. In the latest LifeSkills Youth Barometer, we found that nearly nine out of 10 14-25 year olds would like work experience to be compulsory at school; they are hungry for opportunities to develop the skills and gain the experience required of them by future employers.
Given the clear demand from business and young people alike for more exposure to and awareness of the workplace, the question is: why aren’t more businesses offering work experience? According to the CBI, employers cite three main barriers: 1) insufficient interest among employees in working with schools or colleges, 2) lack of interest among schools or pupils and 3) uncertainty over how to make work experience worthwhile.
What businesses need to overcome all three barriers is a well-structured work experience programme with a strong channel of pupils and senior sponsorship demonstrating the value of getting involved to employees. However, this is far easier said than done for most businesses, and particularly for SMEs.
The first step is to demonstrate the value to the business of making the investment in work experience. Recent research undertaken amongst our SME customers found that two motivating factors stood out amongst all others. Of those who offered work experience, 64 percent did so because it was the right thing to do, and 62 percent to provide a pipeline of new recruits for their business.
Naturally, building a mutually beneficial relationship with a local school, and helping to find a role for everyone in the community offers far reaching benefits to society, but ultimately this is about enlightened self-interest. It’s encouraging that so many businesses already see work experience as strategic business planning and an investment in talent.
As well as closing the entry-level skills gap, work experience can also encourage young people to think about a career in your sector and give you the best chance of spotting those with the most potential as they make key decisions about their future studies. Establishing relationships with young people while their interests and ambitions are still being formed is particularly valuable for businesses in competition with large employers with greater brand recognition.
How then, can employers engage effectively with schools to ensure that tomorrow’s talent has a clear path to the workplace? A big issue underlying the assumed lack of interest among schools or pupils in pursuing work experience is the extent to which resources are stretched, combined with the pressures on teachers to focus on exams and the next key stage. For smaller businesses, there are similar resource challenges to establishing and maintaining relationships with schools. These issues, along with the uncertainty in how best to deliver worthwhile work experience, are persistent barriers that can only be overcome with practical support and guidance to employers and schools to work together more effectively.