A yawning gap between schools and business risks leaving the UK behind in the global race

John Longworth
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Two thirds of firms told us they think schools are not effective at preparing young people for work (Source: Getty)
Good education has the ability to define the success of our country. This may seem like a bold statement but, for long-term sustainable growth, businesses need access to highly skilled talent.
For that reason, we’ve been campaigning for schools and businesses to work together to ensure that the skills pupils learn are suitable for the world of work and give us an edge over international competitors.
Today, we publish findings from our new Business and Education Survey – made up of responses from more than 3,500 business and education leaders – looking at how we can better prepare young people for work and improve business and education partnerships.
Unfortunately, the survey shows that there is a mismatch between what businesses expect and what schools are offering. Every single business said to us that careers guidance needs reform, for example, but the vast majority of education respondents said they feel they are effective at offering careers advice.
When you also consider that two-thirds of businesses told us they think schools are not effective at preparing young people for work, it is clear that there is more to be done to help students get on the career ladder.
First, we should embed soft skills in the curriculum. The five entry-level skills employers value most are communication, literacy, numeracy, computer literacy and teamwork. While government has driven standards up in numeracy and literacy, soft skills like communication and teamwork have been a blind spot.
Second, schools should hold lessons around recruitment. In particular, firms want schools to teach pupils how to conduct themselves at interview, demonstrate transferable skills, and to be able to communicate lessons from their experience of work.
Third, employers need to be at the heart of careers advice. Communication is the key to bridging the gap between what schools and business can offer the workforce of tomorrow. Chambers of Commerce across the country are doing their part, offering membership to schools and colleges to help them connect with their local business community.
We’ve also called on government to measure schools on their pupils’ career destination so that they have a greater incentive to focus on employability. The Chamber Network has recently partnered with the Skills Funding Agency to deliver 250 Your Future careers events across England, putting young people directly in touch with local businesses.
At a more strategic level, we’re asking that all secondary schools offer under-16s quality experience of work. We’re not talking two weeks of filing or making coffee but engagement in real work activities, from business visits to flexible placements.
Businesses aren’t alone in wanting work experience back on the agenda. The National Association of Head Teachers and National Union of Teachers have both backed our call to re-prioritise work experience.
If the skills taught in schools reflect what businesses need, we can ensure that those joining the workforce have a stronger foundation for helping business compete in the global marketplace.
This will be a key theme at our inaugural Business and Education Summit in London on 10 December, where we’ll be debating how we can put the world of work back into education.
Businesses and schools need to work together to bridge the gap between education and employment. With some straightforward measures, we can secure the future pipeline of talent for our employers and ensure that the next generation isn’t lost in the skills gap.

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