Ask a child what they want to do when they grow up and you are likely to get one of a handful of answers: pop star, doctor, teacher, policeman, footballer and astronaut probably covers it. Of course, there is nothing wrong with such aspirations, but schools generally don’t do much to expand horizons. Getting their students through GCSE and A-Levels is their priority, with the increasingly narrow curriculum allowing little room for creative projects and practical experience. Therefore, the further education sector must step in.
We must actively provide young people with exposure to the workplace, project-based learning, and indeed employers - opening up career choices and preparing the next generation for employment.
There is a real disconnect between the skills young people leave school and/or university with and the skills that employers expect to see. In fact, new research published today by the Career Colleges Trust highlights that 14-19 year olds are unaware of what HR professionals want to see on a school leaver/graduate’s CV – wrongly assuming that GCSE and A-Level results are top priority for employers.
In fact, over two thirds of the HR professionals surveyed put attention to detail (spelling and grammar) at the top of their wish list, followed by work experience and real life evidence of skills. GCSE and A levels didn’t even make the top five.
What this research reflects is the chasm that exists between education and employment.
'Strengthen and build'
As we move into a much more technological world, and digital economy, there are many new jobs and indeed industries appearing, which are not well-understood by parents, teachers and young people. Even the more traditional industries are changing dramatically. For example, construction is often perceived as a low skill industry yet we seeing bridges being built by 3D printers and many other high-tech developments.
And the health care industry is not just about nursing – it offers a wide range of specialised career pathways within diagnostic, healthcare management and other medical routes.
No one can argue that better quality careers advice is essential. There is simply no better way to deliver this guidance than directly from employers, which is something FE can do very well.
Direct input from industry not only ensures relevant skills are being taught, but it also enthuses young people about the many exciting career opportunities on offer within a sector.
FE must build from the employer’s point of view and design its study programmes around the skills, behaviour and knowledge required to thrive in the work place- i.e. career pathways, built on skill acquisition- enabling attainment of experience and qualifications that suit.
With an evolving job market and the exponential growth of the digital economy, transferrable skills are key, including: sales, presentation, team work, e-commerce and project-based learning.
These skills are central to our own career college model and are part of the trust’s strategy to prepare young people for work.
As our recent research highlights (as cited above), HR decision-makers want to see these employability skills on a school leaver/graduate’s CV. These are the very attributes that make one candidate stand out from another.
The ability to reference real-life situations and experience is also essential for interviews. Presentations on a portfolio of experience are often required or practical tasks are set – rather than the traditional desk-based Q&A. We need to ensure young people are equipped with real life experience to demonstrate skills in interview scenarios and, importantly, have the confidence to do this.
An excellent example of a collaborative college- employer training partnership is a pilot project we have established in London on an existing FE college campus. Construction industry experts deliver the training (RC Frame – a specialist growing technique for high rise building) and the FE college offers the pastoral support.
Candidates for this particular programme are interviewed by an external recruitment broker and the course is used as an extended interview process. Through this, students are learning the expectations and behaviours required at work – such as commitment and reliability – as well as the crucial technical skills.
Such initiatives are a win-win for young people and for industry. Real exposure to the workplace allows students to gain the portfolio of experience that HR directors are so keen on seeing and employers need to futureproof their workforce.
FE colleges historically have some excellent employer relationships. Let’s strengthen and build on these with innovative partnerships and ensure young people are fully aware of and prepared for the exciting opportunities available to them.
Ruth Gilbert is CEO of the Career Colleges Trust