UK education fit for purpose?
Exam results and university admissions are forever hitting the headlines; there's always debate about the merits and failings of the UK’s education system. Compounding this, UK businesses often bemoan the lack of talent emerging from schools, colleges and universities, claiming that the education system is not ‘fit for purpose’.
A report by the CBI strengthened this notion further when it found that over two thirds of employers "were not satisfied with the business and customer awareness of school leavers."
Increasing applicants for positions
With increased A-level and degree participation and grade inflation, many employers are adopting a ‘quick sift’ approach and imposing a minimum degree class or examination grades for job applicants. While this may quickly reduce the burden of an overwhelming numbers of applicants, it's a very crude process that fails to identify the best talent available and excludes swathes of potential talent which can only lead to a homogenised workforce. Employers need to build varied teams, with a mix of talented, entrepreneurial and creative personnel alongside colleagues with technical, managerial and customer service expertise.
At the same time, it has been well documented that many school leavers have been left disappointed due to the stiff competition for university places. But the education system’s loss is businesses gain; it provides them with an opportunity to engage young people with a broad range of skills that they may not have learnt at university.
Apprenticeships a way to harvest talent
A-levels aside, for those young people leaving school at sixteen, apprenticeships are also an excellent option. Not every student wants to continue academic study after GCSEs. For some, academia does not make the best of their talents. For others, they simply ‘outgrow’ the school environment and consider themselves mature enough to enter the world of work.
Forward-thinking businesses are snapping up these talented school leavers, putting them on structured programmes such as apprenticeships, and developing their talents to suit their strengths and the businesses’ needs. These employers will invest considerable time and funds in such development, and the opportunity to undertake further studies, perhaps an advanced apprenticeship and even a degree at a later point is commonplace. Most business leaders learned their most valuable skills ‘on the job’ and this is exactly what apprenticeships offer; instant skills of instant worth to the employer and employee.
How do I organise an apprenticeship?
For employers interested in recruiting apprentices, or those looking to develop their existing staff on the apprenticeship route, their first port of call should be their local training provider or college. All apprenticeship providers are inspected by Ofsted and their inspection reports are freely available on Ofsted’s website. This allows employers to search for the best quality provision for the apprenticeship subject they have in mind. With apprenticeships available for all careers in all industries, there is a path for everyone. Even within the apprenticeship, a good provider will work with the employer to select the best content, meaning that the programme of off- and on-the-job training can be tailored to suit the business and learner needs.
Most apprenticeships attract government funding through the Skills Funding Agency. Local providers will be able to provide help and advice on accessing this funding, which funds a significant proportion of the cost and in some cases, the total cost of an apprenticeship.
Schools & employers need to align objectives
There's a much deeper issue that needs to be addressed though; youth unemployment is rife and is partly due to schools and colleges not engaging with businesses to ensure that the talent they are producing is in line with business demands. Too many young people are encouraged to go to university with apprenticeships considered a back-up option for the ‘less academically inclined’ and those ‘good with their hands’. This is nonsense. In reality, apprentices need to be as academically capable as they are vocationally talented to be successful. GCSE and A-level grades are not, stand alone, a good measure of academic potential. Many students with lower grades from school are capable of achieving high grades in courses such as National and Higher National Certificates which can form part of an apprenticeship.
Schools need to promote varied learning paths
University is not suitable for half of the youth population. Degrees are of tremendous value to the right students in the right subjects but we are doing our industries’ and students’ futures a disservice if we push more and more school leavers into higher education simply to improve the UK’s position in arbitrary league tables and make us feel good about our education system.
A truly outstanding education system embraces and promotes a variety of development paths, taking into consideration the current and potential needs of our economy as well as the maturity and learning speeds of its students – not everyone is ready for A-levels at 16 or a degree at 18.
Apprenticeships a viable option
An important fact that employers, parents and students should understand is that you can progress from an apprenticeship to a degree. You cannot, however, undertake a funded apprenticeship after graduating. For the thousands of graduates currently looking for work, the apprenticeship route is not available.
We must ensure that today’s school leavers carefully consider apprenticeships as an option as it may be the one chance they get to pursue what is a very rewarding route.