Work experience doesn't work, says Wood commission

Better, longer placements are needed for pupils to benefit

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All pupils should get two months' quality work experience before leaving school, a billionaire businessman and government adviser has said.

Sir Ian Wood believes that secondary pupils should spend two weeks with companies each year from S3 to S6, in order to create the skilled workforce that the country requires. That is eight times longer than the one-week stint that pupils are currently expected to complete, although Sir Ian said they often missed out even on that because the placements were "largely left to them or their parents to arrange".

The former chairman of oil services firm the Wood Group was speaking to TESS ahead of the publication on 3 June of the final report by the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce.

The commission, chaired by Sir Ian, believes that if ministers, schools and businesses work together on the report's 39 proposals, they will almost halve youth unemployment by 2020, bringing Scotland up to the best European standards.

The most recent official figures put youth unemployment at 18.8 per cent in Scotland, compared with 7.4 per cent in Germany, which has the lowest level in Europe.

Although the report does not specify targets for work experience, it does call for a new national standard, to be led and inspected by Education Scotland.

Sir Ian, who took his family's ship repair and marine engineering firm into the lucrative oil business, told TESS: "Some schools will organise work experience but in most cases it's down to pupils to ask their parents for help and.the majority don't get any work experience.

"For those that do, I don't think it's necessarily that bad and companies try to give pupils something to do, but frankly, it's not that easy to find something appropriate and useful."

Sir Ian said that some kind of standard was necessary and that this was one of the commission's recommendations.

He added: "This bit isn't in the report, but if we really want to be ambitious I think it should be two weeks in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth [years] so that pupils can build on their experience each year and get some idea of what employment is about."

The report also calls for all of Scotland's 363 secondary schools to establish long-term partnerships with employers. It adds that 60 per cent of the pupils who currently leave school without any Highers should be helped to gain "meaningful, industry-relevant vocational qualifications" instead.

Key to this will be the introduction of apprenticeships that pupils can start while they are still at school, forging links between education and business.

Sir Ian said: "We don't need to spend a lot of money. We already have colleges. It's not just what young people need, it's what the country needs. If we get it right it will be very beneficial for Scotland's economy."

The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland called on ministers to take the report seriously and end the "marginalisation" of vocational education.

A spokesman for the organisation said that the primary purpose of education at all levels was to prepare people for work. He added: "Renewed efforts to link the worlds of work and education will go some way to rectify this situation, as will exposing young people to the workplace more regularly throughout their school life."

The Scottish government, which earlier this year announced pound;12 million of funding to help jobless young people into work, said that it would respond formally to the proposals in the coming weeks.

Angela Constance, secretary for training, youth and women's employment, said it was a "landmark report". "There is now much to consider and we will work closely with the public, private and third sectors on how the recommendations could be taken forward," she added.

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