With skills and employment remaining high on the news agenda, more and more businesses are realising the role education has to play in driving growth for their own business, as well as the wider economy. However, it’s no secret that employers don’t always believe schools and colleges develop the right skills and qualities they seek in young employees.
While this brings the academic vs vocational debate into sharp focus, it also highlights a real need for employers to work more closely with education providers, such as further education colleges and training providers who sit at the heart of the skills system, to ensure the right programmes are in place to equip learners with the skills and knowledge they seek.
Charlotte Bosworth, Director of Skills and Employment at awarding body OCR, highlights the work being done to ensure the full potential of education in employment is realised.
Bridging the gap between education and the reality of the workplace has been an on-going challenge for many years. While the teaching community has worked hard to ensure qualification standards are maintained, it appears that for many prospective employers faced with building their next generation workforce, GCSE and A-Level achievements on their own are not adequately developing the range of skills and qualities sought by organisations operating within an increasingly competitive landscape.
Traditionally, the apprenticeship route has helped furnish employers with workers that have the range of requisite skills, attitudes and qualities they are looking for. There have been plenty of media headlines about commitments from all political parties who say they will ensure the number of apprenticeship opportunities continue to increase. The recent announcement of a new digital voucher scheme by the Skills Funding Agency to help put employers in control of apprenticeship funding – and simplify the organisational challenges around recruiting apprenticeships – is hard evidence that politicians and employers remain committed to a proven route that proactively supports the practical development of skilled young people.
But this is just part of the story.
Many young people still follow a purely academic journey, relying upon qualification attainment as a passport into the world of work. For many this is a successful journey. However, as an increased
number of students undertake this option, employers are increasingly faced with a scenario which means that while they can filter attractive candidates based upon qualifications, at the same time they are often finding such students lack other important skills that the workplace requires.
Prime examples are the lack of developed skills in ‘softer’, but no less important behavioural characteristics. Creativity, resilience, self-esteem, self-confidence and perseverance, as well as literacy and numeracy, are part of the overall skill set toolkit that today’s employers are actively seeking in prospective employees.
With increased numbers of young people applying for jobs, and with youth unemployment reduced by 50% last year, it is more vital than ever that young people are workplace ready. Unfortunately, many employers are finding that the powerful combination of academic achievement and the development of essential life skills and attributes remain somewhat lacking. It is a situation that needs to be reversed.
OCR has recognised the need to provide a practical answer to the problem. Having spoken with employers and education deliverers to fully understand where attention and resources need to be targeted, we have tailored a new learning approach that helps develop the skills and aspirations for employment in today’s world of work.
The Employability suite of qualifications is a tangible answer to support young people. Moving beyond the traditional range of GCSEs and A Levels, it is a series of qualifications which lends itself to our pioneering project-led approach centred on real-life business challenges. Developed in partnership with students, teachers, education specialists and employers, the ‘Employability’ qualification reflects the real world and positively prepares young people for the workplace.
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Focussing on practicality, the suite of qualifications is designed to equip students with appropriate skills, know-how and confidence, so that they can make a valued contribution when entering employment. OCR has placed great emphasis on allowing students to demonstrate what they know and what they can do, which will assist employers in finding the young candidates that display the well-rounded attributes they want – rather than basing their assessment on exam results.
Not all students are the same. They develop and learn at different stages, in different ways. Some that are highly successful in obtaining traditional qualifications may well lack the additional life skills that are deemed necessary at work. Others may thrive on a practical basis, but require support in other, more academic, areas.
If we are to secure long-term economic growth, a critical factor will be the need to fully realise the potential of the next generation of students entering the workplace.
By working more closely with FE Colleges and training providers, helping them to understand what they are seeking from young people, employers can play a real part in equipping the students of today with the all-round skill set, personal attributes and attitudes that will drive personal and company success, career achievement and job fulfilment.
Further reading: Why education is a business matter