Magnified Learning piece in Guardian Careers blog
07 11 2011
Rather than complaining that young job-seekers lack the skills and experience they require, employers should concentrate on doing more to rectify misconceptions of a job in their industry. guardian.co.uk, Monday 31 October 2011 16.44 GMT
Contrary to what you might imagine, it's young people and your inadequate education putting the brakes on the economic recovery. At least, this is the impression you might form by listening to some employers, who believe "the education system is failing to provide young people with the skills that businesses are looking for", as revealed by a recent report by the British Chambers of Commerce. And it's not just your skills that are letting UK plc down, but your general failure to appreciate the need for a business-like appearance and simple good manners.
When I read the report I shook my head in despair. Not over the state of the nation's youth or even its education system, but because I have grown weary of the business community echoing the same stale complaints. I personally recall gripes about the lack of young people's work-readiness stretching back more than a quarter of a century, and I'm sure they didn't begin then.
The more you look at this, the odder it becomes. I spend a good deal of time working in schools and colleges and I find that these places are brimming with young people full of vibrancy, skills, positive attitudes and expectations. And those expectations are not only related to personal gratification.
More than three quarters of university applicants believe society would need to change significantly to survive into the 21st century, according to UCAS research. Interestingly, some of the industries best placed to capitalise on young people's values are, even in the current downturn, looking to hire. These include energy, transport and environmental employers. Utilities companies, for example, are more optimistic about recruitment plans than at any time in the last three years, expecting a net employment increase of 10%.
In some cases, demand for new talent appears to outstrip supply. In July of this year David Higgins, CEO of Network Rail, complained: "We are just not an attractive organisation with all the turmoil that has been going on. We are not seen as a good company for people to have on the CV." Higgins's concerns are not unfounded. Between 97 and 98% of young people approaching working age have no interest in the transport, energy or environmental sectors, according to a Magnified Learning survey, many admitting they think of these careers as "boring".
In reality, though, each of these industries offers the same range of functions as any other. You can have an equally rewarding career in marketing, finance, HR or sales in the energy or transport sectors, as you can in the same roles in retail or the media, for example. The failure of these sectors to challenge the negativity with which they are viewed by young people is desperate news. It is also a particular shame for young people and emerging graduates, who are missing out on the opportunity for personal and professional fulfilment in key growth industries.
Yet businesses seem curiously reluctant to fix this problem. It would be profitable for them to engage more with young people to enthuse them about a career in their sector – and some do – but I wonder how many of you can recollect meeting someone from the transport, environment or energy sectors as part of your careers education?
The world of work is changing with incredible rapidity, and it is wholly unrealistic to expect teachers to remain fully abreast of these shifting sands. We believe that with education budgets falling faster than at any time since the 1950s, sectors with talent shortages have a responsibility to make the connection with young people's core values, before you have been hooked by other career aspirations.
Of course, another benefit to businesses of spending more time with young people is that they might also come to recognise the vast reservoir of talent that exists, rather than perpetuating negative stereotypes of an army of unskilled, unmannered hoodies.
So what can you do? Well, take a look at the opportunities that are available with these hiring sectors. Don't allow yourselves to fall into the trap of stereotyping them in the same way that some employers negatively stereotype young people. And when you do get that job, find the time to return to the classroom and promote your sector to other talented and work-hungry young people.