By Luke Johnson, Chairman of the Career Colleges Trust
Time and time again employers like myself will tell you that young people just aren’t equipped with the skills they need to succeed in the world of work.
Whether it’s their lack of social skills, enterprise skills or basic maths and English ability, employers are often the first to point the finger at schools, college and universities for the worrying skills gaps that almost all UK industries are facing.
This problem is going to get worse as the world of work is changing dramatically. New technologies mean that while many traditional roles will not be needed in the next 10-20 years, many new jobs will be created that need completely different skills and expertise.
Schools and colleges will need to flex, ensuring that the courses and study programmes they are offering are fit for purpose. And to do this effectively, they need to have a thorough understanding of industry’s requirements, which is no mean feat in such a rapidly changing world.
My own businesses regularly face recruitment challenges, but rather than sit back and bemoan this problem, I want to encourage a rather more proactive approach.
To be fair, employers are attempting to tackle the issue in various way. One example is the recent news that both Penguin books and EY are now welcoming applications from non-graduates – no longer seeing the ‘degree’ as a minimum or indeed necessary requirement.
This widens the talent pool and indeed, can identify more diverse candidates with varied skillsets. It also highlights to young people and their parents that the traditional A-level/Degree route is not the only option to a successful and fulfilling career, which is important.
FE colleges should capitalise on this message, using it as an opportunity to promote the many vocational pathways on offer, including apprenticeships, which are the top of our current Government’s agenda.
However, there is no doubt that the most effective way to tackle the skills shortage is for employers to get involved with their future workforce much earlier, engaging with schools, colleges and students directly.
Many FE colleges are no strangers to working with employers in some way. Through my work with the Career Colleges Trust I have seen a new level of employer-college partnership– with businesses helping to design and deliver curriculums and achieving great outcomes.
Colleges in our network work directly with local and national businesses within particular industries, enabling them to offer masterclasses, work shadowing opportunities and live project briefs to students.
I was at Harrow College last week, for the launch of their two new Career Colleges which are housed in a spectacular £6.5m Enterprise centre. Alongside speeches from employers, I was extremely impressed to hear from a few of the students themselves – all of whom spoke passionately about their courses and how inspiring it is to have support and coaching from real employers.
Such intrinsic involvement ensures that an employer can be assured that the skills and knowledge being taught are fully relevant to the industry. It also means that the student is ready to walk into the world of work, avoiding the need to re-train or start from scratch.
I think we can all agree that the current education system is not perfect. A heavily-academic focus is a real disadvantage to many young people and simply does not provide a clear line of sight to jobs and careers.
I would urge colleges to ask more from local employers. Ask for their support and their input. Ask them what it is they need from you and your students. The world of work is changing and this must be reflected in both the courses being run by colleges and a bigger emphasis being put on technology and enterprise.
Ultimately, employers, colleges and students all want the same thing – so let’s continue to work together to ensure our young people and our industries can thrive.
Luke Johnson is a well-known entrepreneur. He currently chairs and part-owns Patisserie Holdings plc, Gail’s artisan bakeries and Neilson Active Holidays as well as various other businesses and charities.
Previously he was chairman of PizzaExpress, Channel 4 TV and the Royal Society of Arts.