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Employers report widening gap between education and employment

Young business woman in a job interview

Employers are seeing a mismatch between young people's career readiness and what's needed in the workplace, new research shows.

Soft skills and technical skills

Three in four (72%) employers in the UK have seen a shift in the values and priorities of young people (aged 16-24) in the workplace in the past three years, with half (51%) attributing this to lack of work experience due to the pandemic, according to a survey by the Open University.

Nearly half of employers (46%) are finding it a challenge to recruit young people into the workplace, and 53% admitted that they are struggling to retain them in their organisation.

The business leaders surveyed reported a decline in soft skills (54%), such as communication, teamwork and time management, and technical skills (55%) among young people, indicating that there is a need for more investment in preparing this generation for the workplace.

Over half (54%) of organisations don't have any specific initiatives, skills programmes or workplace adjustments in place for particular employees, including those under 25.

Self-awareness and resilience

Separate research by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) suggests that career readiness is declining among graduates as well as school and college leavers.

The areas where employers are most likely to have concerns are self-awareness and resilience, and also time management among the youngest employees.

Most employers (74%) agreed that graduates who had completed an internship or placement arrived with better skills and attitudes than other graduates.

Employers did not expect new recruits to arrive fully skilled in all areas, however, and will offer training to develop skills such as coding and data analysis.

"This aligns with the increasing emphasis of employers on hiring for potential and the ability to build skills, a strategy that is becoming more pertinent as the rapid pace of change in technology now means that what students learn during their academic studies might be obsolete by the time they start work," the ISE said.

Members of the ISE represent hundreds of Britain's largest employers who collectively spend over £180m a year to hire and develop tens of thousands of young people into employment.

Call for policy reform

With Generation Z accounting for 20% of the current workforce, businesses need to invest in preparing this cohort for employment through learning and development programmes and mentoring.

But there is also more that can be done by the government to help ensure that firms can find the talent and skills they need and that young people can make a smooth transition to the workplace and build productive careers, according to the ISE.

A manifesto published by the professional body sets out five key policy proposals for the next government, designed to enable the successful recruitment and development of young people:

  1. Reform the apprenticeship levy to enable employers to recruit more apprentices and deliver more skills training, particularly to those at the school and college leaver stage.
  2. Improve funding for employability support for people from disadvantaged backgrounds that delivers access to work experience for all students in secondary, further and higher education.
  3. Invest in resources to ensure that careers work in all schools and colleges is structured and led by a qualified and resourced careers professionals.
  4. Deliver legislation to end the unequal practice of all unpaid internships and work experience that lasts for over two weeks.
  5. Create a stable international visa regime that supports employer hiring needs across the UK and maintains the global standing of the UK's higher education sector.

'Vital to social and economic wellbeing'

"Education structures, vocational and academic education routes, labour market regulations, social inclusion policies and migration rules all impact how employers hire and develop people," explained Stephen Isherwood, joint CEO of the ISE.

"With enlightened government policies many of the barriers that hinder a fully functioning early career market would fall away. Pathways through education and into work should develop the skills and abilities that employers seek.

"ISE members alone spend millions each year hiring and developing students who go on to add many, many times that value to the UK economy. A vibrant graduate and apprentice employment market is vital to the UK's social and economic wellbeing."

Posted by Fidelius on May 13th 2024

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