Last week the The Times (London) carried a report by Tom Knowles highlighting research from the Institute for Public Policy Research warning of that summer jobs were in “long term decline.” In 1997 it noted 43 per cent of 16-17 year olds had summer work compared to just 22 per cent in 2015. The stark warning was that this was leading to “an erosion of opportunities for young people to gain important employability skills.” The UK Commission for Employment & Skills published a report last year entitled “The Death of the Saturday Job” highlighting those who had taken work during full time education were up to 15 per cent less likely to end up in the NEETs category. The concern the UKCES highlights is that this trend of reduced level of work activity is not apparent in other OECD nations.
Today (Monday 28th August) The Times (London) carried a double page on “Going for Growth” highlighting the potential impact on the future of manufacturing by the reduced levels of pupils taking Design & Technology at GCSE and A Level in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The report highlights an obsession on the academic elements of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) without the same effort or development of the applied science and technical elements. As one contributor noted that “We sometimes forget the joy of making things” and what enthuses young people that making or having something tangible to show for their learning.
Finally as an employer interviewing GCSE students having achieved A* to C in Maths and English it never ceases to amaze when they struggle with simple numeracy and literacy that form the basis for doing an apprenticeship in Mechanical Engineering. Very few GCSE students can make a stab at solving a simple right angle triangle problem using SIN, COS and TAN. Some struggle to even make eye contact during interviews. The course content for these young people appears to have little or no consideration for the application of their learning.
Why should those of us in business, especially in the SME bracket, be concerned? Regularly when surveyed employers highlight “work experience” and “numeracy and literacy” as the key needs for employers. Coupled with this is our need in business, and especially in manufacturing, is for young people to join our businesses with multidisciplinary, applied skills; something that we will need more of in the future as we further automate and digitise to remain competitive and improve productivity. As employers we must seek to influence government, policy makers, educationalists (including qualification bodies and inspectorates), parents and young people on this. Often the best way, especially as an SME is to do this locally with the local post primary schools working with the Principals and Careers Teachers. Doing this can develop very effective networks that can really influence a change.
Business cannot sit on the side lines and moan, we must get involved and become influencers, coaches and positive voices for change to ensure we can build a strong, productive, competitive and prosperous economy for all our young people.