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Businesses and schools ‘still worlds apart’ on readiness for work

Two-thirds of businesses (69%) believe that secondary schools are not effective at preparing young people for work, according to a major new UK-wide survey of over 3,500 business and education leaders published today by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), just hours before the latest national employment figures are published.

Business leaders surveyed think that secondary schools could do more to help students get on the career ladder – with three key actions needed to bridge the gap between the worlds of education and work:

• Embed key skills for work in the curriculum. The top five entry level skills that firms value most are communication (88%), literacy (69%), numeracy (64%), computer literacy (56%) and teamwork (53%).

• Hold lessons around recruitment and interview techniques. Most businesspeople think schools should teach students how to conduct themselves in an interview (78%), demonstrate transferable skills (54%) and communicate lessons learned from work experience (46%).

• Put direct contact with local businesses at the heart of careers guidance. Firms think careers advice should include workplace experiences (64%), encounters with employers and employees (62%), and link curriculum learning to careers (45%).

With youth unemployment rates still stubbornly three times the overall unemployment rate, the BCC is calling for action not just from ministers and schools – but also from businesses, more of whom need to work with local schools to plug skills gaps and help young people make a successful transition from education to work.

Commenting, John Longworth, BCC Director General, said:

“Our latest research shows that businesses and schools are still worlds apart when it comes to getting young people ready for the world of work.

“Businesspeople across the UK believe that secondary schools need to do more to help young people transition into employment by ensuring that their students have the preparation that businesses truly value.

“High youth unemployment and business skills gaps are a cause for national embarrassment. Unless ministers allow schools to increase their focus on preparing students for the working world and businesses step up and do more to engage, inform and inspire, we could fail an entire generation of young people.

“It doesn’t need to be like this. Preparing students to face potential employers should be given the same level of priority as academic achievement in schools across the UK.”

Further findings from the survey:

• There is a mismatch between education leaders and businesspeople when it comes to careers guidance. Eight out of ten secondary schools believe they are effective at offering all types of careers guidance. However, all businesses surveyed thought careers guidance needs reform.

• Businesses want careers guidance reforms to include workplace experiences (64%), encounters with employers and employees (62%) and curriculum learning linked to careers (45%).

• A smaller proportion of businesses think careers guidance should be tailored to the needs of each pupil (40%); be a structured programme, supported by the Senior Leadership Team (38%); or include personal guidance from a careers adviser (32%).

• Just 24% of businesses think secondary schools are either very effective or fairly effective at preparing young people for work – with 69% of businesses saying secondary schools are not very effective or not effective at all at preparing young people for work. While 7% of firms don’t know.

• In comparison, 40% of businesses think further education colleges are not very effective or not effective at all, and 41% think universities are not very effective or not effective at all at preparing young people for work. While these numbers are less than those for secondary schools, they are still high and concerning, given the skills gaps employers presently face.