How can we inspire and raise the aspirations of our young people?

Posted by Neil Ashbridge

Fri 01st, Jun

As the weather heats up so, I suspect, are tensions in households across the country, as we enter exam season. It seems timely therefore to reflect on the challenges which employers face on one hand, in finding suitably skilled staff, and on the other, the economic and social impact of not addressing the barriers which often prevent young people reaching their potential.

In the Chamber we have a long history of working with our local universities and colleges, in partnership with private sector businesses, providing work experience, mentoring and intern opportunities. I am delighted that our latest project is with Liverpool Hope Business School which aims to address some of the issues that businesses face in finding skills and the barriers many of our young face in achieving their full potential.  The project will bring business and students together through a range of initiatives such as placements, mentoring and networking events, while also facilitating a number of economic and business research projects.

With some notable exceptions however, there tends to be a less formal engagement process with the education sector more generally, and I believe we are missing a real opportunity to engage with young people at an early age to support their aspirations and give them the confidence and skills to develop their future career path.

The growth of our burgeoning technology sector in the city region is a pertinent example. With experts forecasting increased overseas investment from the US, Europe and Asia, we need to develop the right skills base to support sustained growth in the city region. Our local universities and colleges provide a source of highly talented graduates but could the private sector be doing more to grow talent from the city region itself through raising awareness and inspiring all students at an early age to consider the sector as a future career path? Engaging at an early stage would also help to create a more diverse talent pool and address issues around the gender pay gap. Providing local apprenticeships and supporting young people who want to set up their own business (through mentoring for example) are all ways in which we can start to expand and future proof our skills base.

There are already some excellent initiatives where businesses are working with the local education sector to inspire young people but we need to see more.

We need the capacity to deliver high quality and consistent employment preparation experience for our young people which we can only deliver in partnership and with a realistic level of resources.

The Government recently announced details of a pilot project with over 40 business advisers signed up to provide hands-on bespoke business support to schools to reduce running costs and maximise resources and budgets. The intention is that this will free up teachers to focus, quite rightly, on teaching. Advice will cover aspects of financial management including smarter ways to buy essential services like water or electricity for example, or innovative ways of timetabling classes to free up teachers time.

Admirable as this initiative is, could we not consider taking it a step further so that students can also benefit from this expertise which covers a range a skills relating to financial health and efficiency, not traditionally a core part of the curriculum, but essential for increasing employability and ultimately growing our economy, whether starting up a new business or working for a multinational company.

Other government policies have had a less positive impact, despite good intentions from successive governments, primarily because they have been vulnerable to, and undermined by, the swinging of the political pendulum. To achieve a truly successful programme of education for our next generation, policies must insulate our practitioners, students and businesses from upheaval every few years. The implementation of the apprenticeship levy has demonstrated the difficulties faced by learners and employers in changes to both the funding and the practicalities of the scheme.

We will be looking at the skills agenda (always a priority for our members) at the next Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) Breakfast Briefing on Friday 20 July which will give participants the opportunity to directly input their experiences to those who are tasked with making education work for business. Whilst the views of our FTSE listed companies are important, we also need to ensure that SMEs (which make up 98% of our business base) have a voice to influence the development of any future skills policy. The panel will listen to the practical impact that apprenticeship reform has had on business and discuss how policy will evolve in the coming years.

If you haven't completed the QES Survey yet you have until 11 June click here so you don't miss the opportunity to have your voice heard.

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