By Marcus Leach

The Forum of Private Business has expressed concern at government proposals to scrap mandatory work experience for GCSE pupils.

The not-for-profit support group warned in a letter to the Department for Education — which is currently consulting on plans to remove the statutory requirement for Key Stage 4 (14—16 year olds) pupils to complete at least two weeks of work experience — that doing so will further reduce the number of work-ready youngsters entering the job market.

In fact, the Forum says that far from removing the current provision, the Government should be looking at expanding work experience placements to further ready youngsters on the brink of starting their working lives.

“We believe work experience is vital in helping to prepare young people for the world of work," the Forum’s Head of Campaigns, Jane Bennett, said.

“There’s no better place than a proper working environment to test out a career choice, and it’s also by far the best arena for young adults to learn the skills so critical to success.

“If small businesses in the private sector are to lead job creation and tackle unemployment, they need a better labour force that includes young, ambitious and talented individuals who know what it takes to thrive in the workplace.

“Our training and skills panel research shows our members already believe young people in the UK are largely unprepared for the workplace. New starters frequently arrive with few or no basic skills, and need guidance on even simple things such as appropriate dress code and punctuality — the very basics of a work ethic.

“Business owners also frequently point out that young people are taught no first aid or health and safety skills, and together these types of inadequacies make them very resource intensive.

“Our research with businesses also identifies poor attitude as a common problem. Class hours and a lenient view of absence during their schooling often means many new starters are unwilling to work unsocial hours, get up early, or even make it in on time. Owners have also cited instances of new recruits refusing to carry out menial tasks they considered beneath them.

“Quite frankly, we need more work experience, not less, to help break down these types of immature mindsets and attitudes.

“Work-linked learning can also be extraordinarily powerful in engaging students who are bored or turned off by conventional classroom teaching. It’s hard to see how any plan to reduce work experience for school pupils fits with Government’s pledge to significantly increase the number of apprenticeships.”

The Forum’s letter does, however, welcome the Government’s proposals to improve vocational programmes for young people, which it says is vital to fulfil employee requirements of small firms. It also welcomed plans for improved links between educators and local business leaders.

“Training and skills providers have traditionally been poor at engaging with small businesses,” added Miss Bennett.

“This has improved in some areas, but provision still remains patchy. We have already highlighted this as a problem area before and have called for greater engagement, so fully support the Department’s current proposals.”

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