We have to improve the employability skills of our young people

Employability Skills

This week we’ve heard from the OECD that the UK’s young adults, aged between 16 and 24, have lower numeracy and literacy skills than young adults in at least 21 other countries.   Last month the Guardian published an article about our graduates not being equipped with the workplace skills that they need to get by in the workplace. So I have to ask the question “what is going wrong with our education?”

In a Times Higher Education article Mr Schleicher from the OECD said that “skills and qualifications are two different things. We’ve got to put more emphasis on the skills people actually have”.  I couldn’t agree more; passing a level 2 maths exam today doesn’t mean that you can apply that knowledge to a practical task in the workplace, and ask many to take the same exam, without any preparation, in a year’s time and they will struggle.

Our apprenticeship providers are required to get 16-24 year olds to a level of English and maths, and in many cases ICT, required by the apprenticeship framework through the delivery of Functional Skills. They are to demonstrate that they are developing learners English and maths to level 2 even if they have the level required by their apprenticeship framework, and it’s absolutely right that our young people should have this level of skills to enter the workplace. However, apprenticeship providers in the main employ vocational experts and it has been a major challenge for many to up-skill their staff to be able to deliver Functional Skills in vocational settings. I have a lot of empathy for staff that say that they may have a reasonable level of these skills themselves, but they are not teachers of these subjects. Many Universities say that it is not their place to teach numeracy, literacy and ICT and although many would agree with this, surely with the results of the OECD research no educator can ignore their responsibility to improve the prospects of our young people.

I completely support the government’s investment in raising the core skills of those who have left compulsory education, but this has got to go hand-in-hand with making the appropriate investment and changes to ensure that in the future individuals leave school with the right skills and qualifications to perform effectively in the workplace. If we see our young people coming out of school with these skills, the current funding that goes to Further Education to raise these skills can be channelled in other worthwhile directions. It will also mean that vocational experts will do what they have always done in the past and embed core skills quite naturally into their delivery where appropriate without the extra burden of teaching to a maths, English and ICT curriculum. University lecturers will I’m sure be equally delighted.

In the past many employers presumed that if a job seeker had the right level of qualifications for the job that they would have the core skills required to function in the workplace. Recent evidence has shown that this is now definitely not the case.

As a long standing educator and the founder of a relatively new company Elearning Marketplace, I can really match the digital skills training with the employer’s skill needs. Cloud and mobile technology, online recruitment and collaboration, the use of online task and meeting schedulers etc. are common place in the workplace.  A recent 2013 Gallup survey said that the four ‘Cs’ 21st century skills required by employers; critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity and innovation, are more important than ever, due to the internet making communication and information widespread, and companies responding to a wide range of new problems with new technology.

I seriously doubt the knowledge and skills of a large proportion of our teachers, trainers and lecturers to be able to deliver these digital skills, particularly when their own employers are not embracing technology in the way that commercial companies are. It isn’t the fault of our educators, if they don’t have access to the technology, the staff development and the commitment from senior management to bring the whole organisation into the 21st century, there is little they can do to rectify the situation.

The European Commission said that digital skills are a precondition to become employable, learn and find a job online.  They are quoted as saying “By 2015, 90% of jobs will need e-skills. Virtually all young people are familiar with electronic games and social networking and might be considered as “digital natives”, but they are not “digitally competent” in the sense that they do not know sufficiently how to use the digital world in a business context.

In a recent workshop on digital employability skills delegates informed me that they had no idea that the internet had influenced recruitment so significantly, and one gentleman said “No wonder our learners are finding it so difficult to find employment they’re missing out on so much opportunity because we don’t have the knowledge and skills to properly support them”.

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