There is a supreme irony in the case of Stella English, former winner of TV’s The Apprentice, suing Sir Alan Sugar for constructive dismissal. English claims that she was treated as ‘an overpaid lackey’ in her clearly unhappy time with Sugar’s firm, but one of the key struggles industry, government and employers face with the (increasingly successful) repositioning of apprentice roles is the perception they are largely underpaid minions. If the business case has been made for increasing the number of apprentices – City & Guilds estimates that the 1 million additional places created will contribute £4.3bn by 2020 − these unseemly courtroom shenanigans will do little to enhance the credibility of apprenticeships.
For us as a resourcing company, it is the proximity and alignment of education and employment that is critical to achieving a return on investment for apprentices and employers. But too often this synergy is absent. McKinseys’ study at the end of 2012, Education to Employment, hinted at the chasm between educators and employers. In answer to the question, ‘How ready are young people to enter the job market?’, 72% of educational providers suggested the existence of a gap, compared with just 43% of employers and 45% of young people.
The future for graduates
More evidence of the distance between education, its participants and employers came in last month’s report on the graduate market from High Fliers. Its findings revealed little for university leavers to get excited about. The number of vacancies forecast for 2013 still trails those of 2007 by more than 10%. However, for TMP, the most noteworthy findings were that more than half the UK’s top recruiters reported that graduates with no work experience were unlikely to be successful during the selection process and had little prospect of a graduate job from a blue-chip employer. Focus group research from TMP suggests that many first generation university attendees lack role models or mentors to provide advice around securing work experience and often wait until after university before starting their job hunting. It’s no surprise then that, according to HECSU, the number of university leavers employed in non-graduate jobs rose by 6% in 2012.
There was clearly a major gap between the expectations of Stella English as she accepted her £100k job with Sir Alan and his own views of the role. Similarly, the communications between education, students and their ultimate destination – employment − seem inconsistent and unaligned. In the words of Chris Jones, chief executive of City & Guilds: ‘We have plenty of talent, we just lack the skills.’
Positively, the High Fliers survey highlighted the fact that over 50% of employers are providing industrial placements and a similar percentage paid vacation internships.
Transition between education & employment
And the learnings for employers? It’s about reducing and ideally removing the transition between education and employment. More work remains to be done so that organisations have access, given ageing working populations, to young people who have both talent and workplace skills, and that graduates leave university able to take advantage of the careers they think they have invested in. Similarly, we would advocate greater amplification of the need for students to understand the employer engagement timetable – ie when they should be speaking with organisations on campus. Organisations must also build on the undoubted progress made in schools engagement, creating even greater certainty within school leavers that an apprenticeship is not a badge of failure.