By Daniel Hunter

As the new school term begins across, accountants ICAEW are calling for schools and businesses to work closer together to support young people in gaining relevant work experience.

A survey by the ICAEW revealed that most businesses struggle to find school leavers with a work ethic. It also found that businesses want to expose young people to different careers available to them through work experience despite it not currently being compulsory.

The report found that despite businesses wanting to expose young people to different careers, they often lack the time and the resources to properly train those on work experience. ICAEW recommends spreading work experience placements throughout the year, perhaps on inset days, rather than a week block, to enable a greater spread of education and better training for the workforce of tomorrow.

The top three skills that businesses feel that school leavers should have before starting work are numeracy and literacy (76%), work ethic (69%), and communication skills (51%). However only 53% of businesses that hired school leavers feel that they had numeracy and literacy skills, and just 43% see a sufficient work ethic.

Just 27% of micro and 48% of small businesses hire school leavers, compared with 63% of medium and 65% of large firms.

Just under six in ten (59%) of businesses offer work experience placements — of those that don’t, 24% cite a lack of time and resource, particularly among SMEs.

When asked what is the greatest benefit to their organisation of offering work experience placements to school-age students, 32% say that they offer work experience to develop a pipeline of future talent, while 31% say it helps to expose young people to different careers

The majority (85%) of businesses agree that schools should be more proactive in promoting work placements among local businesses, while 81% also feel that companies should build stronger links with schools.

Stephen Ibbotson, ICAEW Director of Business, said: “It is clear that businesses feel frustrated that the school system isn’t producing sufficient school leavers with the skill-set to enter the workplace. Schools are often focused on academia which prevents schools from engaging with local businesses. However companies recognise that this is a two-way street and that they can, and should, do more. Teachers need support to give employers what they want.

“Some businesses have said that they lack the time or resource to properly train those on work experience, which isn’t surprising given that it usually takes place at a time of the school’s choosing, rather than when is best for the business. One idea would be to spread work experience across the year, on inset days — so that pupils can learn work ethic from a number of businesses or occasions, easing the burden on businesses that otherwise struggle to train young people.

“Our survey work has shown that an increasing number of businesses are finding it harder and harder to find employees with the right skill-set. But teachers cannot do it alone, and this process has to include proper careers advice. Otherwise, time spent having to train employees on the basics hits our productivity.”