North East business leaders call for closer ties between schools and industry as survey finds teens not ready for work

More than one in three businesses who took on North East school leavers rated their recruits as unprepared for work, a new survey has found.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which is part of the Department for Business, asked organisations who took on 17 to 18-year-olds how they felt their new employees shaped up.

More than one in three employers in this region said the teens were “poor” or “very poor” – almost 20% more than the national average, and placing Newcastle and Sunderland behind the likes of Liverpool and Manchester.

When the question was asked of 16-year-old recruits, the proportion of dissatisfied firms rose to 38% in Newcastle.

A lack of experience of working life was the top reason cited by the city’s employers as the quality lacking from their 17 to 18 year old workers.

> Huh ?  They’ve just left school ! How much experience do you expect them to have ?

That was followed by a poor attitude or personality, and a lack of the required skills.

> Lack of skillls ? Well, aren’t you supposed to teach them those skills ?

Poor attitude or personality ? Yeah, are you really the best judge of that, Mr Boss ? Not on the available evidence…

In response both the North East Chamber of Commerce and regional representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses renewed calls for greater links between industry and schools.

“There’s been a real debate for a long while about work readiness, and not just about school leavers, but about people leaving colleges as well,” said Ted Salmon, chairman of the FSB in the North East.

“Sometimes basic things are lacking – it’s not just about maths and English, but about the ability to interact with people, to write business letters or emails, and to get to work on time.

“And we can debate over what subjects are right to help people into work – but it needs to be part of a wider debate between business and education over how we can encourage more interaction.”

> What they really want is a conveyor-belt of disposable, low-wage slaves that already have all the skills even though they don’t know what job they might be doing.

Mr Salmon expressed concern at the apparent difficulties of speaking to schools in a non enterprise day context, with teachers nervous that closer ties with business could mean extra work for themselves or their pupils on top of the usual curriculum.

“Half the battle is showing teachers how what they already do can relate to business,” said Mr Salmon, “and just to even start that is so difficult because there are so many league tables and exam pressures.

“But when you go in and see the children on an enterprise day you see how switched on they are by it – so we need to break down that barrier and the frustrating lack of communication between schools and business.”

> Perhaps some teachers can see all too clearly where its all leading…

NECC director of policy, Ross Smith, agreed. “Links between education and business are essential to ensure we are producing young people who are ready to fill roles within the North East labour market and are comfortable in the working environment,” he said.

> 16-hour a week cleaning jobs ? Zero-hour contracts ? That seems to be mainly what’s on offer in my job searches within the North East labour market.

“Likewise, we must take the fear out of employing, training or simply giving experience to young people. According to our own 2014 Workforce Survey, businesses see this as costly, time-consuming and restrictive – this must be addressed.

> Or they could see it as an investment in the future. They always used to. But now, of course, its anything for a quick profit, including the workforce.

“A great deal of progress has been made in recent years, but we must continue to work hard if we are to make significant in-roads into addressing regional youth unemployment and potential skills shortages in key sectors in our region.”

> No, a great deal of progress has not been made – we’ve gone backwards, so that now everyone is expected to be fully trained before they start the job.

NECC’s own 2014 Workforce Survey actually painted a bleaker picture of what the region’s firms think of teenagers, with almost three quarters of employers reporting that sixth formers and college leavers were unprepared for work.

> Probably not as bleak a picture as what teenagers think of employers !

Just over half also complained that graduates were not ready – with the main reason given being a lack of work experience.

> Because they’ve just left school ! Good grief, it makes you wonder about the idiots running these companies… or perhaps not.

However, almost a third of the businesses surveyed admitted they don’t offer work experience placements to school pupils, with many saying that placements were too costly and time consuming, or that the requirements set by schools and colleges were too restrictive.

However 52% said they current offer apprenticeships for 16 to 24 year-olds .

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Dec 2014

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