Why job opportunities should mean business

30th May 2014 at 01:00
`Open your doors' to pupils, Wood Commission to tell employers

Companies will come under significant pressure to provide more opportunities for school students in the final report by the Wood Commission, TESS can reveal.

The report, which is due to be published next week, is expected to call on businesses to play a more active role in education, working closely with schools and colleges to improve the employability of young people.

Few employers are prepared to work with young school-leavers, according to Linda McKay, former principal of Forth Valley College and a member of the commission.

"We want to create a culture in Scotland where if an organisation is not offering opportunities for young people, it is legitimate to ask why not," Ms McKay told a conference on apprenticeships last week. "What we would say to employers is, if you want experienced young people, open the doors. Connect with an education establishment, a school or college and play your part."

The Wood Commission was established at the beginning of last year to investigate ways of developing Scotland's young workforce. It is led by billionaire businessman Sir Ian Wood, the former chairman of oil services firm the Wood Group.

Speaking to TESS, Ms McKay said: "Overall, the commission recognises the need to find ways to encourage medium-sized and small employers to engage more effectively. There need to be ways that we could find to support them to deliver on our shared objective."

At last week's conference, she told the audience that the lack of consistency across Scotland in terms of the opportunities available to young people was a serious challenge. Employer engagement had to be a key focus, she said, and this had to go beyond "involvement on the margins" and should mean "employer leadership" of initiatives.

It is expected that this will involve employers helping to design apprenticeship courses, offering work experience and being more involved in careers advice. The commission is also likely to make specific recommendations addressing the under-representation of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds in certain areas of the workforce.

But Ms McKay stressed that public organisations also had to play their part. "We should expect as much of them as we do of the private sector," she said.

She added that the commission had found that "in Scotland we still convey a sense of an A team and a B team", with young people in the former group heading towards university and those in the latter destined for vocational training. Often, she said, young people who followed a non-academic route did so with "much less sense of purpose".

Damien Yeates, chief executive of Skills Development Scotland, said his organisation was keen to see the introduction of "foundation apprenticeships" in the senior phase of secondary school. This would mean completing the first year of an apprenticeship while still in compulsory education.

He said: "Rather than them doing higher origami or geography in S5 and S6, why not do the first year of an apprenticeship?"

This would be particularly beneficial if industry buy-in could be secured and young people could go straight into the second year on leaving school, Mr Yeates added. He said that the programme could start as early as 2015-16.

Mr Yeates, who also wants to see the introduction of more advanced apprenticeships at degree level, said that Scotland was now at a "tipping point where work-based learning is going to represent a significant pathway for the future".

Rob Wall, head of employment and education policy for business lobby group CBI Scotland, said: "Business has a critical part to play in helping young people to prepare for life outside the school gates. We need an environment where links between schools, colleges and local companies are actively encouraged - and where firms of all sizes can get involved.

"When it comes to careers advice, for example, schools cannot do it alone. Employers have a key role, but government needs to create the framework to enable this to happen."

Angela Constance, the Scottish government's training, youth and women's employment secretary, told TESS that engaging employers was "one of the greatest challenges" that Scotland's education system faced. But she added that the government "stands ready to take forward the work of the commission in partnership with Skills Development Scotland".

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