IT is common knowledge that there are some significant skills gaps to address if the UK economy is to continue to grow over the next decade and beyond.
By 2022, two million more jobs in the UK will require higher skills levels. Many of these jobs are in industries such as construction, but we also know there are skills shortages in many other parts of the economy, for jobs including doctors, teachers and IT developers.
More than 20 per cent of all vacancies are “skills shortage” vacancies, where employers are struggling to find people with the requisite skill set and experience. Across the private sector, 60 per cent of companies say they will need workers with higher technology skills over the next five years.
One of the key objectives for UK industry is to get young people excited by science, technical or engineering careers. We need them to appreciate the diversity of career options in those areas, and to realise those careers are not the preserve of “geeks” or people who know how to use a spanner.
The bottom line is that we need to invest in our young people and provide them with sustainable futures.
Let’s not forget that around half of all school pupils do not go to university. They choose a different path, and everyone in government, education and business has a responsibility to ensure those choices are fully explained, and that sufficient vocational training is available and accessible.
At NG Bailey, our award-winning apprenticeship scheme has already helped more than 5,500 young people into careers, and over the next 12 to 18 months we will broaden our offering in this area to encompass an even wider range of apprenticeships.
But we also recognise that creating sustainable employment opportunities must go beyond apprenticeships, which is why we recently launched “Inspire”, a schools-based programme that we hope will excite kids about STEM-related careers and encourage them to seek out college or university options, or even apply for an apprenticeship.
Over the past couple of years, significant changes have been made to the way careers advice for 13 to 16-year-old students is organised and delivered. In my opinion, not all of the changes have been positive.
However, working closely with the schools in our Inspire programme, which has been designed to help young people see what a future career in industry looks like, has also highlighted an issue of increasing concern to us, and to many other businesses that we talk to – the provision of careers guidance in schools.
David Cameron has called for teachers to encourage more students to consider apprenticeships as a viable career option. But it should not be the responsibility of teachers. It is down to the careers advice that is provided in schools, and this is dictated by government.
This Government has left schools to decide what careers advice is best for their students, and how to fund it. It is estimated that a reasonable level of careers advice support will cost a school around £25,000 a year. No wonder so few offer the same level of service. The quality of careers advice varies greatly between schools, depending largely on what a school believes it can afford.
A significant number of schools are not buying in face-to-face guidance, which is seen as key to ensuring young people are given good careers advice. Schools are more focused on academic achievement.
The result is that careers advice often falls short of what our young people need, and what our industry requires. It should be of a consistently high standard across the country, but it’s not.
We have conducted our own national research with apprentices, which found that when deciding upon their career options fewer than a quarter (24 per cent) used school as their primary source of information and almost a third relied on family or friends for advice (30 per cent). A huge 62 per cent of the apprentices who had careers advice or information provided at school, stated that apprenticeships weren’t even mentioned as an option.
There also needs to be better links to the workplace, as our research also showed that 24 per cent of apprentices would recommend more direct contact with employers to help young people choose an apprenticeship as a career option.
That is why we have created “The Schools Report”, to outline the issues we believe need to be addressed in schools, and our recommendations for how the current provision of careers advice can be improved.