The rapid transformation of technology and communications has created a modern, globalised workplace which only 25 years ago was unimaginable. The future of work and the vast potential for new business opportunities has never been more exciting or more challenging.
With movement of capital, labour, technology and ideas freer than ever, British businesses must work hard to maintain a competitive edge. A crucial factor for future commercial success in this country will be the quality of our workforce, and it is here that
schools and businesses must work closely together for mutual benefit.
Delivering an able workforce for business
In order to succeed in the future, it is clear that British businesses will need a steady supply of literate, numerate, competent and enthusiastic employees. Yet how much is the business sector itself doing to ensure the successful delivery of well-rounded
and well-trained individuals from schools to the workplace? To begin with, British businesses could, and should, do more to help shape current and future education policy. While this may sound self-serving, having a large pool of people who leave school without
the requisite skills to find or retain work isn’t in the best interests of businesses or schools or of those people themselves.
A high level of youth unemployment has been an entrenched problem in the UK for well over a decade and can’t be blamed solely on the recession. The business world has changed dramatically over recent years and new kinds of skills are now required by employers.
While there may be many opportunities available for people with the right training, knowledge and attitude, too many people are still leaving education without the tools they need to succeed at work. Industry, with the support of government, must make a stronger
case for creating an educational environment that can adapt to keep pace with the rapidly changing world of work. This will require not just external lobbying by industry, but also far more integration and involvement by businesses in schools themselves.
Developing mutual understanding
Part of the problem may be a lack of familiarity with the requirements and priorities of business on the part of educators. Many school leaders do not gain relevant business experience prior to their appointment and there are still not enough opportunities
for individuals to gain experience through temporary placements as part of their career development. Businesses could do far more in encouraging and creating such placements, not just for the benefit of education professionals, but also for the corporations
that participate in such schemes too. Both sides can learn from each other and, in so doing, help shape future educational policies that will benefit both students and the business community.
Another of the key ways in which industry can help to strengthen educational outcomes for school pupils – and with it, future economic prosperity – is through more active participation in school governing bodies. As a result of successive government reforms,
school heads are being entrusted with more decision-making powers to determine what is taught in their schools and how. This can be a positive development that improves opportunities for pupils, but governing bodies need to provide strong support and oversight.
As well as holding headteachers to account, school governing bodies should help steer the broader strategic direction of their schools – including the ways in which schools prepare their students for employment. Local businesses should encourage employees with
the right skills, knowledge and capabilities to volunteer as school governors and should support them in fulfilling that role. By increasing the number of business professionals within the composition of school governing bodies, the opinions, concerns and
expertise of the commercial sector will be heard more clearly within schools themselves.
A further problem that needs addressing is the reluctance of many employers to hire recent students due to their lack of suitable experience, a catch 22 situation that deprives many school leavers and graduates of the hands-on experience they need to bolster
their academic achievements. Research by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills in 2012 found that just 6% of employers were prepared to offer people their first job. However, those employers that did take a chance on first-timers were usually pleased
by the results, with those first-timers stepping up to the challenges demanded of them.
However, we should not simply rely on employers to take a chance at the point where people are finishing their studies and looking for work. Instead, policy makers and businesses must work together to extend work placements and apprenticeships for people while
they are still in education. In this way, educational institutions can actively address the concerns of employers and better prepare their pupils and students for the workplace.
As well as providing work experience opportunities, businesses can help schools to prepare their pupils for work by providing careers talks, materials and other information. While teachers are best able to impart information to pupils, it is businessmen and
women themselves who have the relevant knowledge of their sector. If more industry professionals are encouraged to come to schools to share insights about their careers, pupils will have more knowledge of what is expected of them. In this way, gaps in skills
and knowledge can be addressed long before any job application is made.
Greater cooperation between schools and business – on both a local and national level – will help to ensure that students enter work with the right combination of skills, knowledge and attitude. This will not only serve the best interests of people finishing
their studies, but will also help to keep Britain at the leading edge of business innovation.
It’s not long until we team up with Dame Kathy August DBE to host our exclusive Leadership and Governance in Education event. If our mini series has struck a chord, you can
sign up for free here.
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(The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Berg or any of its partners or employees. Professional legal advice should
be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.)