Companies should provide primary school careers advice
16 Jul 15

Mark Boleat, policy chairman at the City of London Corporation, writes in The Telegraph's Education Opinion pages about two programmes delivered by The Brokerage.

To fill the gaps currently left by patchy career advice, companies should become involved with building employability early on.

Just as companies have been breaking down the detail of last week’s budget, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) delivered the dispiriting news that over half of employers struggle to recruit enough high-skilled workers. In addition, a substantial 77 per cent of firms said careers advice in schools is not up to scratch.

An increased focus on examination performance has coincided with a decline of quality careers advice and the ‘death of the Saturday job’. This is invariably contributing to the current skills crisis. Too many otherwise capable young people do not have the requisite employability skills to succeed in high-growth sectors such as engineering and financial services.

We already know that employers are filling the gaps of patchy careers advice at the recruitment stage, but a more successful outcome would involve business intervention in careers advice from primary school.

Businesses want well-rounded individuals who can demonstrate skills such as communication and resilience as well as academic capabilities, and it is better to build these early on.

Recent research from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission revealed the value attached to attributes such confidence and ‘polish’, which shows that an inequality in soft skills begins long before young people submit their CVs.

Strengthening the link between businesses and schools will help prepare young people for the jobs of the future and address the persistent mismatch between how careers advice is delivered in schools and the skills employers need to boost growth.

Many school leavers and graduates lack skills that employers are looking for

Business intervention can include a whole host of work-related learning activities, such as work experience placements, one to one mentoring or regular careers fairs which can help fill the gap.

In the City we fund a programme called City Careers Open House, which sees state school pupils from age 10, visit prestigious firms such as Allen & Overy, Lloyd’s of London and Eversheds.

Many of the young participants from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t know anyone who works in a professional office setting, so visiting a business early on can help break down preconceptions about the workplace.

For Year Six pupils, this exposure to the work environment can also ease the transition into secondary school and help raise awareness of potential career options they can aim towards. Regular workplace visits also enable pupils to meet employees, ask questions about what their role involves and start to understand the practical applications of what they are learning in school.

Evidence shows that young adults who can recall four of more employer contacts, are five times less likely to become a NEET (not in education, employment or training).

More employers need to open their doors to local schools, but schools need to find capacity to respond to this opportunity, and fit worthwhile visits into the class timetable.

As well as familiarising pupils with the workplace, employers and their staff need to recognise the value they can add by stepping back into the classroom and delivering talks. This activity is thankfully increasing in state schools.

Workers can share insights about their own career path, helping pupils make informed decisions about their future; from knowing which skills are valued, to where the growth sectors lie and, therefore, which GCSE/A-level subjects to pursue.

The earlier the exposure pupils have to businesses, the less introverted they will feel when they participate in work experience placements later on in school. The other week I briefed around 100 18 year olds, who were about to begin three month paid internships at top City firms including Societe Generale and UBS, through our City of London Business Traineeship scheme.

All candidates completed tough interviews and demonstrated skills such as problem solving and communication, to secure their placements. Their internships will open the door to influential contacts, unique access to senior management, and the strong possibility of future job offers at some of the country’s most elite firms.

The stakes are high. Providing quality work-related learning is essential in ensuring that today’s generation get a fair shot at the top jobs and employers can recruit people with the skills they need.

Mark Boleat is the policy chairman of the City of London Corporation.

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